RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — A special grand jury has been empaneled to investigate New York’s foster care system following the arrest of a Long Island man on child sex abuse charges.
The man had welcomed dozens of boys into his Ridge home, dating back two decades, before allegations of sex abuse surfaced, creating questions about oversight over the foster parent system.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said Thursday the special grand jury, which has been meeting since mid-August and may not conclude its work until early 2017, is “assessing all of the facts and circumstances involving how he was able to take all these boys in.” It also is investigating other possible crimes involving the suspect.
It was not clear if the grand jury would file additional criminal charges or issue a report on its findings, with recommendations for changes in the foster care system. Various governmental agencies and private foster care organizations are being examined. Spota also told reporters the grand jury would investigate how the suspect was able to obtain some of the children in his care from out-of-state foster care agencies, including Washington.
Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu, 60, was arrested last winter and charged with victimizing seven children as young as 8. One count in an indictment alleges he sexually abused a dog in front of a child. On Thursday, a new indictment was unsealed accusing him of abusing one additional child and added charges involving some of the children identified as victims in the initial charges.
A prosecutor also said it was likely some charges from the first indictment may be dropped because some of the alleged crimes happened too long ago to fall under statute of limitations laws.
Defense attorney Donald Mates entered a not guilty plea on behalf of his client; Gonzales-Mugaburu is being held without bail. Mates told reporters after the arraignment that his client denies ever abusing children, and suggested the alleged victims were lying.
Spota said previously that statute of limitations laws prevented prosecutors from filing charges involving other abuse allegations.
Since the scandal erupted, separate investigations have been started by state, city and Long Island officials. Questions remain about how Gonzales-Mugaburu was able to keep getting children placed in his home despite years of concern about his conduct.
Before his arrest, Gonzales-Mugaburu was the subject of nine previous investigations involving alleged abuse dating to 1998, according to a spokeswoman for Suffolk County. Each of those inquiries led to a finding at the time that the allegations weren’t credible, and none of them immediately led to the removal of children from his split-level ranch home on eastern Long Island.
A break came in January, when detectives said two brothers who lived in the house came forward with credible stories of abuse. Once Gonzales-Mugaburu was in custody, others felt more comfortable coming forward, authorities said.
SCO Family of Services, an agency that placed 72 New York City children in Gonzales-Mugaburu’s care over 20 years, said it never uncovered evidence of sexual abuse or improper sexual behavior in the home.
But the organization’s chief strategy officer, Rose Anello said in July that there were other issues with the home, particularly around 2013, “and in retrospect and knowing what we know now, a decision to close the home should have been made at that time.”
She said those issues involved Gonzales-Mugaburu being uncooperative and unwilling to accept staff guidance on parenting style, but none of the issues then hinted at anything like the allegations uncovered this year.
Following the Gonzales-Mugaburu arrest, the city’s Administration for Children’s Services temporarily halted placing children in SCO foster homes, but announced in July that a review of 370 homes operated by SCO uncovered no indications abuse was occurring at any of those sites.
This story has been corrected to show children stopped being placed in SCO foster homes, not SCO facilities.