Sunday, December 13, 2009

NY: Man extradited from Guatemala in child sex-assault case


BEDFORD — A man has been extradited from Guatemala to face charges he sexually abused a 9-year-old Bedford girl in a case that touched off a firestorm of allegations that school officials knew about the abuse for months but didn't notify police.

Cesar Joel Sagastume Morales, 30, was taken into custody Friday by Bedford Town police detectives and the Westchester County police warrant squad, Bedford police said.

"After a three-year investigation the Bedford Police Department is pleased to report the extradition of Cesar Joel Sagastume Morales," Bedford police said in a brief statement about the arrest. A Bedford police sergeant said no one was available Saturday to comment on the arrest.

The case led to the firing of Bedford Hills Elementary School Principal Victoria Graboski in 2006 and the filing of criminal charges against her for allegedly failing to report the abuse. The mother of the girl charged in a lawsuit filed in April 2007 in state Supreme Court in White Plains that school officials knew about the sexual abuse in December 2005 but failed to properly notify authorities.

The sexual assaults continued until August 2006 when Bedford police charged Sagastume Morales, a day laborer, with first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, according to prosecutors in the criminal case against Graboski. It is unclear when Sagastume Morales fled the country.

A lawyer representing the alleged victim's mother did not return phone calls and e-mails Saturday seeking comment. Susan Elion, the president of the Bedford Central School District Board of Education, also did not return calls seeking comment.

Sagastume Morales, the boyfriend of the alleged victim's mother, abused the girl at her Bedford Hills home, according to the lawsuit against the school district, Graboski, and former school psychologist Kelly Cieslinski-Schluter.

In December 2005, the girl told other students she had sex with an adult and those girls were then overheard discussing it at a slumber party the next day, prosecutors in the criminal case against Graboski said. A parent of one of the girls told Graboski about the allegations. At another point, the girl's mother came to the school to ask if the girl's behavior had changed at school because she was "acting sad at home," according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said that instead of reporting the abuse to authorities, Graboski undertook her own investigation.

"As a result of the defendant's failure to report the suspected child abuse, the 9-year-old child victim continued to be sexually assaulted repeatedly over a period of approximately eight months following the victim's disclosure," prosecutors said in court papers filed in the criminal case against Graboski.

In December 2006, Graboski agreed to be part of a public education effort on reporting suspected abuse as part of a deal to have Westchester County prosecutors drop misdemeanor charges against her. She was re-hired by the school district that same month as a special education teacher at Fox Lane High School.

Graboski, Cieslinski-Schluter, and four other school staffers were placed on leave while the school districts investigated the allegations that they failed to report the abuse.

Sagastume Morales is due in Westchester County Court on Monday, according to booking information from the Westchester County jail, where he is being held without bail. Bedford police said he was extradited with the help of the Westchester County District Attorney's Office, Westchester County police, and federal authorities. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted

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