A now-former Lake County special education paraprofessional has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for sexually assaulting a physically and mentally disabled student over the span of two years.
Israel Suaste-Gonzalez, 51, of the 19000 block of Cambridge Road in unincorporated Mundelein, was charged in December 2019 with four counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, four counts of criminal sexual assault and five counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a handicapped person.
Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Russell Caskey previously said that Suaste-Gonzalez was employed at the Special Education District of Lake County (SEDOL) Atkinson site, located at 100 South Atkinson Road in Grayslake, from 2016 through 2018.
He worked as a paraprofessional while the victim, only identified as “Jane Doe,” was enrolled at the facility. The adult victim referred to Suaste-Gonzalez as her “teacher” during that time, prosecutors said.
The victim reported that Suaste-Gonzalez sexually molested her multiple times at the school during his two years working with her.
She also told authorities she felt required to be involved because her “teacher” kept telling her to do so, Caskey said.
Suaste-Gonzalez denied the allegations when first interviewed by police, but later admitted to sexually abusing the student on at least five occasions, Caskey said.
In early August, Suaste-Gonzalez entered into a plea deal with the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Court records show that the man pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal sexual assault in exchange for prosecutors dismissing his other charges.
A sentencing hearing took place on Tuesday and Lake County Circuit Judge Mark Levitt sentenced Suaste-Gonzalez to 24 years in prison.
Levitt said that while Suaste-Gonzalez seems to show reflection and remorse, his actions displayed “a special kind of depravity.”
The courtroom was filled with family and friends of both the victim and the defendant.
In victim impact statements, family members described what the victim’s father called the “devastation” the defendant’s actions brought to his entire family.
The victim’s mother said that her daughter was diagnosed with both physical and mental disabilities at a young age.
By the time the victim reached the transition program after finishing high school, she had the mental capabilities of a six to nine-year-old child, her mother testified.
The victim said that during the two years she was being molested by Suaste-Gonzalez, she regressed in areas and began showing signs of anxiety and stress, including stomach pains.
“I couldn’t understand why he was doing these things to me,” the victim testified, adding that she did not report what was happening because “he [Suaste-Gonzalez] would lose his job and I would be in big trouble.”
Suaste-Gonzalez spoke just before he was sentenced. “The guilt I feel will be to eternity and beyond,” he said and then apologized to the woman and her family.
Under truth-in-sentencing guidelines, Suaste-Gonzalez will be required to serve 85% of his 24-year sentence.
Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart expressed support for the family and agreed with the sentence.
“The offender did unbelievable damage to this victim and her family. He also violated the community’s trust. Our office’s prosecution, in this case, demonstrates how seriously we take our mission to protect the most vulnerable in our society, and we will continue to support those affected by this awful crime,” Rinehart said.
“The Court’s lengthy and appropriate sentence holds the offender accountable and protects Lake County long into the future,” Rinehart added.
A lawsuit was filed in March 2020 against SEDOL after Suaste-Gonzalez was charged in the case.
Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard, a Waukegan-based law firm, filed a civil lawsuit in Lake County Circuit Court alleging the school district “recklessly failed” to protect the victim, Jane Doe.
The lawsuit, which is still ongoing, alleged SEDOL failed to enforce its policy that male teachers should never be alone with female students, failed to have a sufficient number of personnel on staff, did not adequately train staff about the prevention of sexual abuse and improperly allowed a male to supervise a female student changing her clothes.
“On several occasions, Jane Doe’s teacher asked where Jane and Mr. Gonzalez had been when they were late for the bus. Based on this and other suspicious behavior, SEDOL should have suspected Mr. Gonzalez was sexually abusing our client and done their due diligence,” said Jane Doe’s attorney, Patrick A. Salvi.
“Instead, they recklessly continued to allow our client to be alone with Mr. Gonzalez for prolonged periods of time,” Salvi said.
“Unfortunately, this innocent young lady has suffered severe emotional distress from these horrific acts. We strongly believe SEDOL is responsible for her being victimized,” Salvi added.