The Ridge man on trial for sexually abusing his foster children used the system that placed the boys in his care like it was a “candy store,” a Suffolk prosecutor said Wednesday in an opening statement in a Riverhead courtroom.
During the two decades that Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu, 60, was a foster parent, he specifically requested that young boys be sent to live with him, Assistant District Attorney Laurie Moroff told jurors.
“The defendant hand-picked his victims,” she said.
Gonzales-Mugaburu has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexually abusing eight boys, some of whom he later adopted, and a dog. The most serious charge, predatory sexual assault against a child, carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life, the same punishment as second-degree murder.
Donald Mates Jr., of Hauppauge, one of Gonzales-Mugaburu’s attorneys, said his client did not sexually abuse the boys.
“The crazy story you heard is just that,” Mates told jurors before Suffolk County Court Judge Barbara Kahn.
The boys, Mates said, suffered from psychological, emotional and mental issues. He said their stories are not credible.
Mates said his client had welcomed more than 100 boys into his home for two decades, and until now, had never been charged with abusing the children placed in his care.
“If you look at the quality of the evidence, it’s not there,” said Mates.
Moroff, however, told jurors the boys, some of whom are now grown men, will testify to the sexual abuse they endured “almost daily” while they lived with Gonzales-Mugaburu in his four-bedroom house.
In one case, she said, a boy allowed Gonzales-Mugaburu to abuse him for seven years, believing that Gonzales-Mugaburu would leave his brother alone. She said he was mistaken.
The boys who submitted to Gonzales-Mugaburu became his “favorite” sons, Moroff said. Those who didn’t were disciplined or sent away.
“If you obliged, you didn’t get punishment,” she said.
Moroff said Gonzales-Mugaburu used fear, intimidation and sometimes corporal punishment to get the boys to comply.
In addition to sexual abuse, Moroff said Gonzales-Mugaburu also denied the boys medical care, starved them, isolated them from friends and made them eat off the floor.
Last January, two foster children, one of whom saw Gonzales-Mugaburu engaged in a sexual act with a dog, alerted their case worker, who notified authorities.
“And, that was the beginning of his downfall,” said Moroff.
A Suffolk grand jury report found earlier this year that a lack of coordination between child welfare agencies in Suffolk County, New York City and the state was so pervasive that it allowed a Ridge foster father to sexually abuse dozens of boys for years. The report, which didn’t name Gonzales-Mugaburu, found the Ridge man had been investigated for child abuse 18 times.
Last year, a Washington state boy, then 14, sued a Glen Cove-based charity in federal court for sending him as a foster child to live with Gonzales-Mugaburu. The pending 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 starving and sexually abusing the boys. SCO officials have denied knowledge of such abuse.
The trial, expected to last two to three weeks, resumes Monday.