A Bellport High School social studies teacher took advantage of an underage schoolgirl's crush and had a sexual relationship with her, a Suffolk prosecutor told jurors Monday as his trial began.
Jonathan Elsalam, 28, of Ridge, resigned after he was arrested last May. He is on trial in Riverhead before Suffolk County Court Judge Barbara Kahn on two counts of third-degree rape, four counts of third-degree criminal sexual act and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces a maximum of 22/3 to 8 years in prison if convicted.
His attorney, David Besso of Bay Shore, said there was "no excuse for Jonathan Elsalam having an inappropriate relationship with a student as a teacher," but he said there's no proof any crime took place. Newsday is not identifying the East Patchogue girl, now 18, because authorities say she is the victim of a sex crime.
Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Kearon said the relationship began in November 2011 when the girl was 16, continued through her junior year and the following summer and into the next school year, until her friends told school officials about it. The teacher and the student met every day during that time, exchanged 18,000 texts and had sex three or four times a week, sometimes in his car and sometimes at motels in Riverhead, Kearon said.
"It's shocking, ladies and gentlemen," Kearon told jurors, repeatedly referring to Elsalam as "the defendant, the teacher, the adult."
Kearon acknowledged that the girl initially denied any relationship when Principal Timothy Hogan asked her about it.
That and other variations in her story pose a problem for the prosecution, Besso said.
"She doesn't have a great memory of things that occurred, if they did in fact occur," Besso said. "She has an eagerness to not tell the truth when it suits her."
He added that anything that happened between his client and the girl after she turned 17 in May 2012 may be distasteful, but it's irrelevant, because at that point sexual contact between them was legal.
Besso said Elsalam was arrested after the girl's family sued the South Country school district and asked the district attorney's office to prosecute.
One of the girl's friends in high school, Andrea Deangelis, now 18, testified that the girl was excited to have Elsalam as her sociology teacher in 2011.
"A lot of people wanted him as a teacher," she said, before clarifying: "A lot of girls wanted him as a teacher."
Deangelis said when she finally found out they were having a sexual affair in September 2012, she told a teacher and school officials.
Hogan testified Monday that the girl denied a relationship during three or four meetings with him after he asked her about it. "She said it was just rumors," he said.