(Lake County, IL) – A Mundelein area man was sentenced late Tuesday afternoon to 24 years in prison for sexually assaulting a special needs student while he was employed at the Special Education District of Lake County (SEDOL).
Israel Suaste-Gonzalez, now 51, was charged in December 2019 with sexually assaulting a student in SEDOL’s community transition program. Lake County Circuit Judge Mark Levitt said that while the defendant seems to show reflection and remorse, his actions displayed “a special kind of depravity.”
Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart expressed support for the family and agreement with Circuit Court Judge Mark Levitt’s 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,” State’s Attorney Rinehart said. “The Court’s lengthy and appropriate sentence holds the offender accountable and protects Lake County long into the future.”
In July of 2021, Suaste-Gonzalez dropped his initial not guilty plea, and pleaded guilty to two felony counts of criminal sexual assault of a person who could not knowingly consent under a plea agreement with prosecutors.
His sentence was just six years short of the 30-year maximum under the agreement. Defense attorney Raymond Kloss had sought the minimum of 12 years.
The courtroom was filled with family and friends of both the assault survivor 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 disability at a young age.
By the time she reached the transition program after finishing high school, she had the mental capabilities of between a six- and nine-year old child, her mother testified. She said that during the two years she was being molested by the defendant, she regressed in areas and began showing signs of anxiety and stress, including stomach pains.
Both parents said didn’t realize until they received a call from police what was causing the changes in her outlook and actions. Both also said they haven’t been the same since the incidents were revealed, struggling with sleeping and brain fog.
The victim herself took the stand at the sentencing hearing and said “I couldn’t understand why he was doing these things to me,” but nonetheless she kept his secret for two years after he told her “he would lose his job and I would be in big trouble” if she told anyone.
Finally, while watching “The Dr. Phil Show,” she realized she had to tell her family what had happened, family members said.
In speaking to the family and the judge just prior to being sentenced, Suaste-Gonzalez said “The guilt I feel will be to eternity and beyond.” He personally apologized to the woman and her family.
Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Walker spoke of how far the survivor had gotten despite her disabilities, “but because of the trauma caused by this defendant, there is no promise she’ll recover.”
Family members said she had been an ambassador for the Illinois Special Olympics but now is distrustful of people she doesn’t know.
Suaste-Gonzalez has been held in Lake County Jail since 2019 on a $2 million bond. His sentence is to be served at 85 percent and the defendant will receive 638 days credit for the time he has spent in jail since his arrest.
The victim was enrolled in SEDOL’s Community-Based Transition Program, for students ages 18 to 22 who are moving from SEDOL programs to independent living, SEDOL Superintendent Valerie Donnan said in a letter to parents after Suaste-Gonzalez was charged.
Suaste-Gonzalez was a paraprofessional with the program at the time of the incidents which are believed to have occurred during the 2016-2018 school years. The victim said that Suaste-Gonzalez had molested her on several occasions at the school while she was in the program.
Walker said Suaste-Gonzalez got the job at SEDOL using a fraudulent Social Security card because he is not a legal resident. Kloss said his client will be deported to Mexico after his sentence is served, in arguing that a lengthy sentence was not necessary to protect the community. He also noted that the defendant had no prior convictions.
After police informed the district of the investigation, SEDOL officials immediately placed Suaste-Gonzalez on leave. Donnan also said his employment with the district had ended once he was charged.
In addition to the criminal court proceedings, the victim’s family has filed a lawsuit against SEDOL based on the case.
^^ MOBILE? USE VOICE MIC ^^
Please ‘LIKE’ the ‘Arlington Cardinal Page. See all of The Cardinal Facebook fan pages at Arlingtoncardinal.com/about/facebook …
Help fund The Cardinal Arlingtoncardinal.com/sponsor
THANKS FOR READING CARDINAL NEWS