RIDGE, N.Y. (AP) — Investigators are trying to figure out how a New York foster parent accused of sexually abusing at least seven boys in his care was able to keep getting children placed in his home, despite years of concern about his conduct.
Before his arrest in January, Cesar Gonzalez-Mugaburu was the subject of nine previous investigations involving alleged abuse dating back 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 Gonzalez-Mugaburu’s split-level ranch home on eastern Long Island.
The Suffolk County district attorney has said he is investigating how the system designed to catch and prevent abuse broke down.
SCO Family of Services, an agency that placed 72 children in Gonzalez-Mugaburu’s care over 20 years, never found reason to stop placing children with him until his arrest in January, said the organization’s chief strategy officer, Rose Anello.
“SCO has been working closely with the local authorities and law enforcement to better understand the scope of this matter,” Anello said.
Since the arrest, other victims have continued to come forward, police said. So far, police have interviewed a dozen potential victims. Officials said Gonzalez-Mugaburu has cared for as many as 140 children over the years.
The nature of the past complaints about Gonzalez-Mugaburu wasn’t immediately clear. Neither police officials, nor SCO would discuss details of past inquiries.
Suffolk County Police detective Lt. Robert Donohue, commander of the special victims section, said the last probe before the one that led to Gonzalez-Mugaburu’s arrest began in April 2015.
No arrest was made at that time, either, but after Gonzalez-Mugaburu’s arrest in January, police developed new evidence that led to the case being included in a 17-count indictment unsealed earlier this month, Donohue said.
Gonzalez-Mugaburu made a practice of taking in all boys — many developmentally disabled with behavioral problems, the detective said.
“He was a predator and he knew exactly the segment of the population to prey on,” Donohue said. “We’re dealing with vulnerable teens from broken families. Most of them are on medications and have diagnoses of behavioral or psychological problems that create a limit in their credibility.” The detective said the credibility issue was a key factor in failing to develop evidence in some of the prior investigations.
Gonzalez-Mugaburu also kept his victims quiet by threatening them and telling them he had installed hidden cameras in his house to watch their every move.
“He told them he could hear and see everything they would do,” Donohue said.
A break came in January, when detectives said two brothers who lived in the house came forward with credible stories of abuse. Once Gonzalez-Mugaburu was in custody, others felt more comfortable about coming forward, Donohue said.
Gonzalez-Mugaburu, 59, has pleaded not guilty. He is accused of victimizing children as young as 8. One charge alleges he sexually abused a female dog in front of a child.
His attorney has not returned telephone messages or responded to an email seeking comment, but in a brief jailhouse interview with the New York Daily News, Gonzalez-Mugaburu said the charges are “not true.”
Anello said SCO’s policy is to certify foster parent homes annually. Caseworkers are expected to make home visits at least once a month. She said socio-therapists visit twice a month. Anello did not respond to questions about whether all those requirements were met in the Gonzalez-Mugaburu case, citing the ongoing investigation. She said SCO is working with an independent, abuse-risk management organization to review the case.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said Gonzalez-Mugaburu earned as much as $18,000 a month as a foster parent, caring for six to eight children at a time since at least 1996.
Spota said statute of limitations laws prevent filing charges involving some suspected victims.
In Gonzalez-Mugaburu’s quiet neighborhood in Ridge, neighbors said they never suspected any trouble happening in his home, where two vintage sports cars are parked in the driveway.
“Really nothing out of the ordinary,” said Christine Stean, 30. “You would see the kids raking leaves and doing yard work, but it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.”
Matthew Roamer, 28, added: “It’s just shocking. It blows your mind about what can go on two houses down that you have no idea about.”
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This story has been corrected to show that a count in the indictment against Gonzalez-Mugaburu was related to the April 2015 investigation.