A Ridge man already charged with sexually abusing his foster children was indicted on new and more severe charges Thursday by a special grand jury that is also examining the state’s foster care system.
Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu, 60, is now charged with predatory sexual assault against a child, a crime that carries the same maximum penalty as second-degree murder — 25 years to life in prison.
Also Thursday, a 14-year-old Washington State boy sued a Glen Cove-based charity in federal court for placing him as a foster child with Gonzales-Mugaburu. The suit says that SCO Family of Services placed the boy and 70 others with Gonzales-Mugaburu, even though it should have known for years he was abusing, starving and sexually abusing the boys in his “house of terror and abuse.”
In Riverhead, Suffolk County Court Judge Barbara Kahn ordered Gonzales-Mugaburu held without bail. He had been indicted in March on child endangerment and sexual misconduct charges. Assistant District Attorney Christina Pinnola said the two indictments would be merged later. Gonzales-Mugaburu is now charged with sexually abusing eight boys and a dog, although prosecutors say he likely abused many more boys.
His attorney, Donald Mates of Hauppauge, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf and said the increased charges are an “absurd” indication of a prosecutor’s office that is overreaching.
“It shines a light on the huge holes in their prosecution, that they are haplessly trying to bolster a weak case with additional charges,” Mates said.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said that’s not the case at all. He said more victims — one of whom watched his former foster father in the courtroom Thursday — have come forward. He conceded, however, that two of them did not appear to testify before the special grand jury as expected and police are looking for them.
Spota said the special grand jury, in session since August, is also looking at the broader issue of how so many children — some from across the country — could be sent to an abusive foster parent.
“How could something like this have occurred?” Spota said. “We have predators going on a website [that features potential foster children] as if they’re buying merchandise.”
The suit, filed in the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, put much of the blame on SCO, a social services agency with a budget of more than $200 million. The suit said about half of the 140 children fostered by Gonzales-Mugaburu in the past 20 years came from SCO.
The suit says Suffolk County banned him as a foster parent 15 years ago and told SCO that, yet the agency continued to place children with him. The $2,400 a month he got for fostering children allowed him to make as much as $230,000 a year, tax-free, the suit says.
In addition to sexual abuse, Gonzales-Mugaburu also denied boys medical care, starved them, isolated them from friends and made them eat off the floor.
“Regrettably, I think we’re going to find out more,” said one of the boy’s lawyers, Richard Emery of Manhattan. “It’s a systemic problem here. It’s reckless beyond imagination.”
SCO said in a statement it had no idea what was happening in the house.
“We note that a recent independent investigation concluded that SCO staff had no knowledge of physical, sexual or emotional abuse in the [Gonzales-Mugaburu] home.” the statement said. “SCO will continue to take very seriously any allegations and cooperate with all inquiries and investigations into the home.”
Two boys were removed from the house in January and were relocated to other foster homes in the county.
Mates said his client is innocent.
“He opened his home and his heart to these young boys, and this is how the universe is repaying him,” Mates said.