RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) — A foster father who took in more than 100 troubled boys over 20 years and is on trial for sexually abusing eight of the children operated a house that was a "horrific place" where boys lived in fear and needed permission to go to the bathroom, prosecutors said Wednesday.
In opening arguments, Suffolk County prosecutor Laurie Moroff described Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu's suburban Long Island home in Ridge, New York, as a beautiful house with a pool, but inside the children lived in a prison.
The foster system was like a candy store filled with boys for him, Moroff said. She said Gonzales-Mugaburo would threaten to shoot the boys or run them over with a car if they didn't obey him.
"It was a horrific place to live, eating on the floor, and not allowed to do anything without asking permission first including going to the bathroom," Moroff said outside the court. "They lived in fear, they were afraid."
Defense attorney Donald Mates said there was no truth to the charges, calling it a "witch hunt." He said the accusers were all troubled boys. Some had psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia, ADHD, bipolar disorder and other conditions, Mates said.
"When you hear an allegation of eight children over 20 years and there has been more than 100 children in his home eight is really not a lot," Mates said outside the courtroom.
Gonzales-Mugaburu, 60, was arrested in January 2016, after authorities said two boys in his care reported alleged abuse to a caseworker. Prosecutors said that prompted a wider investigation, which led to additional charges involving other alleged victims.
In addition to the alleged abuse of the boys, prosecutors also said the man sexually abused a dog in front of a child.
Gonzales-Mugaburu has pleaded not guilty to child endangerment, sexual misconduct and other charges, and remains jailed on $1 million bond. His lawyer disputes that any abuse took place at his client's home.
The case against the Long Island man sparked an investigation into New York's foster care system that found "abysmal" communication among the child welfare agencies involved.
Prosecutors said Gonzales-Mugaburu earned more than $1.5 million over two decades as a foster parent, caring for particularly troubled boys, which entitled him to a higher income than a traditional foster parent. He cared for as many as six to eight children at a time since at least 1996.
An 83-page report released by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota last month outlined a remarkable series of failures that allowed Gonzales-Mugaburu to take in more than 100 children over 20 years, despite being the subject of 18 separate child abuse investigations. None of those investigations led to criminal charges.
The report said rules intended to protect the reputations of falsely accused foster parents were partly to blame. Substandard abuse investigations were another issue. But the biggest problem, the report said, was the simple failure of four governmental and one nonprofit child welfare agencies to share information.
Mates said he disagreed with the findings in the report. There never was any reason for the agencies to fail to uncover abuse, because, he said, it never happened. Mates also said that at least some of the alleged victims have a financial reason to see Gonzales-Mugaburu convicted because they have filed lawsuits against an agency that placed them in his home.
A spokeswoman for SCO Family of Services, one of the state's largest foster home providers which placed dozens of children with Gonzales-Mugaburu, has said it never uncovered any evidence of abuse prior to his arrest.
SCO said since the scandal erupted, it has worked with the state, the Administration for Children's Services and Suffolk County "to diligently address each and every concern about the quality of care provided in this home."