AJ Freund DCFS caseworker gets 6 months in jail, probation for child endangerment

The child welfare caseworker found criminally guilty for mishandling the case of AJ Freund before the Crystal Lake boy was killed by his mother was sentenced Thursday to six months in jail and 30 months of probation.

Former Department of Children and Family Services caseworker Carlos Acosta of Woodstock could have gotten only probation or up to up to 10 years in prison for his conviction on two counts of endangering the life or health of a child, which are Class 3 felonies.

“What AJ deserved was a chance … a happy life. What AJ got was a shallow grave,” Judge George Strickland said before imposing the sentence. “And, yes, it was foreseeable.”

Acosta was immediately taken into custody after the judge imposed the sentence, which included 200 hours of community service and a $1,000 donation to the Children’s Advocacy Center.

Carlos Acosta waits in a McHenry County courtroom for his trial to start last September. Gregory Shaver/Shaw Local News Network

While acknowledging the tough and important work that DCFS child welfare specialists have, the judge said there was “no evidence that Mr. Acosta was overworked” but rather, his actions showed “truly a willful refusal to investigate.”

Strickland said that while he considered it a high bar to impose a sentence on a government employee, “there is not immunity no matter what you do. There has to be some form of accountability when such a dramatic failure to act took place.”

During the trial, Acosta was accused of failing to take the required measures to protect AJ despite evidence of continued abuse and neglect by his parents. The boy had been placed in foster care because he was born with drugs in his system, but he eventually was returned to his parents.

Much of the testimony centered on what occurred after an emergency 911 call was made on Dec. 18, 2018, by a Crystal Lake police officer concerned about AJ’s welfare.

At the time, the officer said the Freund home was cold, filthy, and smelled of urine and feces. The officer testified she also saw and photographed AJ, who had a large bruise on his hip and a fat lip.

AJ had told an emergency room doctor that “maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me” but was returned to his parents’ house. The DCFS investigation of alleged abuse was closed in January 2019 and classified as “unfounded.”

Andrew “AJ” Freund

Just four months later, AJ was murdered. His parents — JoAnn Cunningham, 41, and Andrew Freund Sr., 65 — eventually pleaded guilty in his slaying and are in prison.

At the sentencing hearing Thursday, prosecutor Randi Freese argued probation alone would be inadequate, calling Acosta “a defiant and apathetic DCFS employee, someone who had a job who outright refused to do it.”

Acosta’s failure to intervene “had fatal consequences for AJ, and now there should be criminal consequences for the defendant,” Freese said. “He did the bare minimum. He doesn’t deserve a bare minimum sentence.”

In asking for probation, Acosta’s defense attorney Rebecca Lee noted Acosta, 58, spent in professional life in child welfare and other social service work but asked the court to “take into account the high price Carlos has already paid and will continue to pay forever.”

Lee said Acosta was a low risk for reoffending and had otherwise led a law-abiding life.

Lee acknowledged Acosta made “some bad judgment calls and serious omissions.” But she said he was “a harried, overworked DCFS employee” who did not have “an intent to do harm.”

In an unusual move, prosecutors had brought child endangerment charges against Acosta and also his supervisor Andrew Polovin, arguing that if they’d followed procedures as they were “required,” AJ’s life could have been saved.

Polovin, 51, of Island Lake, was found not guilty on the same charges.

At the time of AJ’s death in 2019, Acosta had recently been elected to the McHenry County Board. He resigned after the charges were brought against him.

Defense attorneys have maintained that the Woodstock field office where the two worked was understaffed and overworked.

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