Sexual abuse charges against a Suffolk group home worker represent a rare instance when a criminal case is supported by the testimony of mentally disabled people, advocates and attorneys said Thursday.
The six women whose accusations led to the arrest this week of AHRC group home aide Pervez Mahmud are diagnosed with mental retardation but are "highly functioning women who work in the community, go out in the community," said Joseph Mammolito, AHRC executive director.
Last month, they were able to testify credibly to a Suffolk grand jury, Mammolito said. The jury then indicted Mahmud, 64, of Manorville, on 20 charges, including the rape of one woman and the sexual abuse, forcible touching and endangerment of five others. He was being held Thursday at the Suffolk County jail on $50,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond.
The developmentally disabled "are often not taken seriously because of their mental capacity," said Mammolito, whose organization runs 26 homes, an apartment complex, a school and programs for the developmentally disabled. "Sometimes law enforcement doesn't feel like they are credible witnesses."
Of the indictment, he said: "This is very rare."
Mammolito credited Town of Southold police Det. Edward Grathwohl, who "pushed the investigation forward" and "wouldn't let it go."
A Southold police spokesman declined to comment. A spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota did not respond to calls.
Normally, the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, which funds and regulates group homes, investigates in lieu of law enforcement, Mammolito said. He said the state knows about the Mahmud case.
Mahmud worked weekends at AHRC's state-funded group homes in Southold and Bay Shore. The case began when a Bay Shore resident told AHRC staff of suspected sexual abuse, Mammolito said.
Mahmud's attorney, Christian Killoran of Miller Place, did not respond to phone calls. In court Wednesday, he said the evidence was weak and deficient.
Disabled victims often have their credibility challenged in court, legal experts said. Judges can exclude witnesses who don't understand the difference between truth and fiction.
"There's a real issue for people with severe mental disabilities being able to report accurately things that took place," said Bruce Barket, a former Nassau prosecutor who as a defense attorney has represented people accused of harming a mentally disabled person.That the accusers are "highly functioning" could buttress their claims, said Cliff Zucke of Albany nonprofit Disability Advocates.