'I was suicidal': Boys detail years of sexual abuse by adoptive father
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A Milwaukee trauma specialist is in jail, facing felony charges of sexually assaulting four children he had either adopted or fostered.
All victims were younger than 18. The youngest child was just 11 when 50-year-old Cornelius Smith started assaulting him.
For the past 12 years, Smith worked as a trauma specialist and mental health counselor, helping families impacted by homicide and drug overdoses.
But behind the scenes, Smith allegedly sexually assaulted four boys that were in his care hundreds of times and beat them when they would not comply.
One of the victims told investigators, "What he did was wrong. I was suicidal." The now-24-year-old man detailed years of sexual abuse at the hands of Smith.
Smith adopted the victim when he was 15. The assaults started shortly after, first watching him change, then oral and anal sex.
The victim did not come forward until recently because he told investigators "he had nowhere to go and no other options."
According to a criminal complaint, it was a similar pattern with three other children: Smith fostered or adopted them, then assaulted them soon after. One was 11, another 12.
The complaint said one child was assaulted "hundreds of times" in the past seven years. Smith allegedly beat them with a wooden stick if they did not comply and threatened to kick them out of the house.
In August of 2021, Smith was a trauma specialist for advocacy group Kids Matter. He was spotlighted for his work with families, quoted at the time as saying, "Kids are particularly vulnerable because they don’t always know how to process grief."
Kids Matter is not accused of any wrongdoing.
The executive director said they are greatly saddened by the news, and "An extensive internal review in underway to ensure any potential impacts on kids and families are addressed, individuals are supported, and referrals to law enforcement take place as appropriate."
The state's Department of Children and Families oversees the foster system in Wisconsin.
DCF said Smith was first licensed as a foster parent in 2005 and would have had to pass a criminal background check, which includes a review of legal violations.
But due to confidentiality requirements, DCF could not say if Smith had been involved in any child welfare investigations.
Milwaukee's Wellpoint Care Network licensed Smith in 2019. The organizations sent a statement that read in part, "Immediately, upon learning of his arrest, we began the revocation process for his foster care license and began an investigation to ensure the safety and care of all involved. We are cooperating fully with officials to provide information and ensure the investigation identifies any potential victims."
Smith is now facing decades in prison if convicted of the nine felony counts.
He's being held on a $1 million bond and will next appear in court Tuesday, March 21 for a preliminary hearing.