NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A renowned music teacher is accused of sexually abusing young girls and is now facing federal sex trafficking charges.
Oliver Sohngen is the founder and director at the Long Island City Academy of Music.
“It’s horrible,” artist Roya Farassat tells CBS2’s Ali Bauman. “I don’t know what to say. I have a daughter myself, older, but I think it’s horrible.”
Homeland Security investigators made the arrest Tuesday morning and say there’s no evidence any of Sohngen’s students were victims.
Prosecutors allege Sohngen had a disturbing interest in young girls. He is accused of paying for or attempting to pay for sex acts with girls age 8 to 17 years old, and had been arranging to engage in sex acts with the children since at least 2013.
“It’s so shocking for us. Of course it’s heartbreaking too,” said Shera Sunico, who works in a coffee shop where Sohngen frequently had breakfast. “Oliver is a really happy person. Whenever he comes here he talks to us, he sings. He’s a jolly person actually.”
Songhen is originally from Germany. He came to the United States 27 years ago on a scholarship to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents made the arrest. They also searched his school and nearby home for evidence.
“Text messages were disturbing and this was something they flagged as an individual who showed propensity for younger victims, and who was going out of his way to negotiate access to minors,” Deputy Special Agent In Charge Peter Fitzhugh said, calling this one of the most heinous cases of his career.
Fitzhugh says Sohngen would go to family establishments such as Chuck E. Cheese in order to lessen the suspicion of a criminal act.
There was no answer at the former music teacher’s home Tuesday night, but colleagues say they are shocked at the allegations against the renowned artist they thought they knew.
“I would never have suspected anything like this,” said Roland Tradafir, who rents space in the same building as the music school. “It’s really tragic. I had no idea what his interests were.”
The music school has been closed to students Sohngen’s arrest, and a coworker tells CBS2 it will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
Prosecutors say he was finally arrested after soliciting sex with an undercover police officer posing as a 15-year-old girl.