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'I just want it to stop': First family reported Valley tutor to police nearly 20 years ago

The AG’s Office is accusing Brett Smith of legally changing his name to hide his past, which includes allegations of inappropriately touching children.

CHANDLER, Ariz. — It’s been almost a week since self-employed tutor Brett Smith was arrested on fraud charges in Maricopa County, but there’s a lot more to his criminal history.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office is accusing him of legally changing his name to hide his past, which includes allegations of inappropriately touching children.

The very first family to report him to the police reported him almost 20 years ago.

"It was horrible," says Dawn Landl.

Landl knew Brett Smith as Brett Zagorac, who records say was a substitute teacher at her fourth-grade son's elementary school in Indiana in 2002.

12 News first reported on Smith in July 2020, after uncovering he legally changed his name in Arizona from Brett Zagorac to Brett Smith in 2019.

Then the Department of Public Safety tried to shut him down from getting a fingerprint card to work with kids in Arizona after revealing he had a history of accusations that he’d inappropriately touched kids under his old name.

"The more I read this, the more it makes me angry that he’s still doing it," Landl said.

RELATED: 'He's a liar': Records show Chandler tutor arrested for fraud had 12 different aliases

RELATED: Valley tutor accused of molesting kids indicted on fraud charges

Court documents from a DPS lawsuit cited a 2002 investigation report, claiming Zagorac rubbed a student’s back under his shirt while the rest of the class was watching a movie in a dark classroom at two different times. Landl said that student was her son.

Police arrested Zagorac then on two counts of misdemeanor battery.

"There’s times when he has a nightmare still about it or thinks about it," Landl said. "Because it feels like it happened yesterday. That’s how awful it was."

The case was ultimately dismissed and charges were dropped. Landl said she remembers that day in the courtroom and how her son and their family felt defeated.

"Crying his eyes out and saying 'I tried doing a good thing,'" Landl remembered. "I said 'You did the right thing' and he goes, 'I didn’t because he’s getting away with it' and he says, 'I’m never going to tell ever again' and I said 'No - you need to.'"

Smith would be arrested nine more times across Indiana and Illinois over the past two decades. In other cases, charges were dropped, but in three cases, he was convicted on misdemeanor battery charges and served time in jail.

Then came the fraud arrest last week in Phoenix.  

The indictment said Smith, on or between August 2019 and April 2020, misrepresented and omitted facts from a name change application with the Maricopa County Superior Court in order to get his name changed and conceal his past history of arrests and convictions for misdemeanor charges in Illinois and Indiana.  

At least seven of the Valley families in that case reported Smith for inappropriate touching, too.

"It makes me sick," Landl said. "And it makes me angry because we tried to stop this. And look."

Court records in Arizona show Smith had 12 different aliases he’d use with clients, including BJ the Educator.

"You see him going from state to state," Landl said. "He’s changing his name and it just continues."

Landl said her family went to therapy for years after her son came forward and wishes other families never had to experience the same heartache.

"Do the background checks, investigate these people," she says. "Maybe it wouldn’t have happened to so many other kids. I just want it to stop."

An attorney listed for Brett Smith hasn't responded to requests for comment. 

Smith is due back in court Tuesday morning for arraignment on the fraud charges.

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