A former karate instructor accused of having sex with two of his students in Kane and DuPage counties pleaded guilty Friday and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In an unusual if not unprecedented hearing, Dean Fuerstenberg, 45, pleaded guilty in a conference room at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, where he has been treated since breaking his back and being paralyzed from the chest down after a Nov. 19 fall in a cell at the DuPage County jail in Wheaton.
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Fuerstenberg was arrested in August 2011 after he had moved to Eden Prairie, Minn., and accused of having sex with a two female students at National Karate Academy of Martial Arts locations in Roselle and South Elgin.
Fuerstenberg pleaded guilty to using his position of trust and authority to assault the two girls between June 2003 and May 2006. Prosecutors said the two girls had attended the karate studio since they were 9 years old; the assaults began when they were in their early teens.
DuPage County Assistant State's Attorney Louisa Nuckolls said Fuerstenberg groomed one of his victims by offering private lessons, buying her karate uniforms and paying her entry fees into tournaments.
In November 2005, Fuerstenberg called the girl's mother, beginning the conversation by saying he was "a very sick man," Nuckolls said.
However, an investigation did not begin until April 2011 after one victim came forward to report the assaults to Roselle police.
Both victims are in their early 20s and live out of the area.
Kane County Judge James Hallock and DuPage County Judge Blanche Fawell accepted the guilty pleas.
Fuerstenberg was wheeled in on a hospital bed, his left wrist secured to the bedrail.
When Fawell asked why Fuerstenberg was at the hospital, he said "I had a fall and broke my back."
Fuerstenberg must serve 85 percent of his 15-year sentence, which equates to about 12 years and nine months. He also gets credit for about 28 months he has spent in jail while the cases were pending and must register a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Fuerstenberg attorney Perry Thompson declined to comment afterward.
In a prepared statement, Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon called Fuerstenberg's actions "disturbing, self-serving and unconscionable."
"Mr. Fuerstenberg was more interested in taking advantage of his position to satisfy his perverted needs than he was in looking out for the best interests of the children he was responsible for mentoring," McMahon said. McMahon and DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin praised the victims for coming forward.