A former Gavin Middle School teacher who fled the country amid allegations he molested two former students pleaded guilty in a Lake County courtroom Thursday to charges of sexual assault and possession of child pornography.
Michael Vucic, 42, of Lake Forest faces between six and 82 years in prison when sentenced later this year, attorneys said.
Vucic pleaded guilty to a single charge of predatory criminal sexual assault and possession of child pornography involving one victim, then criminal sexual assault and possession of child pornography for the second victim.
The predatory criminal sexual assault will put him behind bars for six to 30 years, the criminal sexual assault charge could land him in jail for four to 15 years, and the child pornography charges each have a sentence range of three to seven years, officials said. The sex assault charges are to be served consecutively, and any jail time for the child pornography charges would be served after the sex assault charges.
Vucic previously pleaded not guilty to more than 50 counts of predatory criminal sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a child, aggravated child pornography, criminal sexual assault of a victim under the age of 17 and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Had he been found guilty after a trial, he could have been sent to prison for more than 120 years.
"The Lake County sheriff's office expended a lot of resources to ensure justice was reached," Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said after the plea deal. "We will vigorously pursue all criminals, especially those preying on our children. By the offender pleading guilty today and accepting responsibility, it prevents the victim from being re-victimized."
Authorities alleged Vucic molested two former students while he worked as a social studies teacher at Gavin South Middle School in Ingleside.
One victim told her grandparents she engaged in sex acts with Vucic after school in his classroom, and when Vucic and the student would video-chat over the Internet, authorities said. The grandparents contacted the Lake County sheriff's office, which investigated the allegations.
A recording of sexual acts revealed the second victim, authorities said. The victims are no longer students at Gavin.
Videotapes showing Vucic and the victims engaged in sex acts were given to sheriff's office investigators and prosecutors by former teacher April Courtney, 35, authorities said.
Vucic left instructions for friends to destroy the contents of the tapes should he die or be arrested, officials said.
Vucic set off an international manhunt after he fled the country last year just days before charges were filed. He was arrested by members of the Lake County sheriff's office and Interpol in Bosnia-Herzegovina in September 2014, three weeks after the charges were filed.
"We will go to every extreme and exhaust all resources necessary to hold offenders accountable. This even means going to Bosnia to bring an offender back to stand trial, as we did in this case," Undersheriff Ray Rose said. "We will exercise all means necessary to let the community know we are here to keep them safe. Now that a conclusion is reached, closure and healing can begin for the victim and community."
Along with Courtney, teachers Michael Lanners, 38, and John Keehan, 40, were charged in the case for failure to report the sex abuse allegations against Vucic.
Courtney was sentenced to 30 days in the Lake County jail as part of a plea deal reached in July. An attorney for Keehan said he expects the case to reach a resolution soon, while the case against Lanners is still pending.
"I'm hopeful we can now put this entire unfortunate incident behind us and move forward with learning at Gavin school district," Gavin school board President Sherry Florian said.
Vucic is due back in court Oct. 19 for a status hearing, when a sentencing date will be determined.