A new lawsuit accuses a CPS teacher of abuse more than 40 years ago, leaving experts to worry about safety of kids in his school now. (WGN - Chicago)

In a grand ceremony in front of the future first lady, veteran Chicago teacher Harold "Jerry" Mash was lauded for tirelessly working to help his students — a stark contrast to how he was labeled in an Ohio courtroom three decades earlier.

On that drizzly day back in 1976, Mash was found guilty of one of the cardinal sins of the classroom: abuse of a child. He lost his job. He said he was leaving teaching.

But by 2005, he had reinvented himself two states and 200 miles away. He was a guest of honor at that Chicago reception held under the skylights in a special atrium atop the Harold Washington Library. Michelle Obama gave the keynote speech. Mash was among six teachers given $5,000 awards.

On Thursday, Mash's past caught up to him. The popular teacher was named in a lawsuit accusing him of molesting multiple Ohio boys, including the one he was found guilty of abusing.

Mash remains a paid CPS employee. But upon learning of the allegations and past criminal case from the Tribune, the district said it removed Mash from contact with children Thursday and began its own investigation. State teaching certification officials also have begun an investigation.

A Tribune investigation of Mash's past raises questions about how a teacher with such a conviction in one state could end up in an Illinois classroom, and it highlights how a popular teacher could carry a dark past — something experts say is not unusual among teachers found to have abused kids.

Records show Mash, 68, had spent 22 years teaching almost exclusively in Chicago schools, much of it as an English teacher, before becoming the attendance dean at Foreman High School in Portage Park. There is no record that he has faced criminal or civil allegations in Cook County except related to traffic, unpaid bills and three bankruptcies tied to heavy student loan debt.

In a brief interview with a Tribune reporter Tuesday at Foreman, Mash denied abusing students and said he'd never faced a criminal charge related to such an accusation. After he was shown the sentencing document in the 1976 case — for the crime of abuse of a child — he ended the interview and told a reporter to speak with his attorney.

His attorney, Jim Saltouros, on Thursday said Mash thought that even though a judge found him guilty, there would be no formal conviction if he followed through with requirements for therapy, which he did. Saltouros was unable to say what Mash specifically remembers of the case, other than to issue a blanket denial that Mash did anything wrong then, before or since.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday in Ohio, the accuser in that 1976 case and another man, Ronald Tremp, both allege that Mash sexually abused them when they were in their teens. Tremp alleged that Mash groomed him for sexual abuse when he was 14 and then molested him three times in 1978. The accuser in the 1976 case alleged that Mash groomed and then molested him for a year, when he was 14 and 15.

Their lawsuit said Mash for decades sought out roles in which he had authority over children, including as a coach and youth volunteer.

"All of these roles were intended by Defendant (Mash) to provide him with access to children he could sexually abuse and exploit," the lawsuit alleges.

The Tribune is not publishing the name of the accuser in the 1976 case, per his request. The newspaper typically grants victims of alleged sexual abuse the right to not be publicly named. He goes by the name John Doe in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks more than $25,000. Saltouros questioned why they would make such allegations so many years later. Both men told the Tribune they filed not for money, but decided to come forward to publicly warn of a man they consider dangerous.

Trail of allegations

Forty years ago, records show, Mash was a rising star in his native northwest Ohio, a popular English teacher who started a swim team at one of the area's biggest high schools. But he resigned after six years, citing personal reasons.

The Toledo school district's records contain no allegations of misconduct, but the lawsuit alleges that Mash was forced to resign "due to suspected sexual abuse of a child."

A former Toledo union official told the Tribune that Mash faced questions over inappropriate student contact. The official spoke only on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue even four decades later.

"I said, 'Jerry, either I go to management with you and you resign, or I'm going to let them take you out,''' the official recalled. "He said, 'I think I better resign.'"