Attorney: Elgin cleric likely to plead not guilty to sex charges
The new attorney for an Elgin cleric charged with aggravated battery and sexual abuse said he "anticipates a plea of not guilty to all the charges," when his client is arraigned, possibly next month.
Prosecutors did not announce an indictment against Mohammad Abdullah Saleem, 75, during his appearance Tuesday in a Rolling Meadows courtroom. That will likely occur during Saleem's next appearance March 19, providing a Cook County grand jury approves the indictment against Saleem, the founder and former head of the Institute of Islamic Education, an Elgin Islamic school for students in sixth through twelfth grades.
Saleem, a native of India and a naturalized U.S. citizen, was charged last month with sexually abusing a 22-year-old office employee at the school from October 2013 through April 14, 2014.
Saleem's accuser claimed he repeatedly hugged her, touched and massaged her against her will in her office at the Elgin school.
The Muslim community continues to support the school and Saleem, said defense attorney Raymond Wigell. To that end, Saleem remains a leader at the mosque, Wigell said.
However, "out of respect for these questionable allegations, he has reduced his role," Wigell said.
"Mr. Saleem has shown no indication in his history that he is any danger," Wigell said of his client, who has no criminal background.
About a dozen supporters of Saleem attended the hearing.
After the woman reported the abuse to police on Dec. 4, 2013, several other accusers came forward, prosecutors said. Five filed a lawsuit last month, on the same day Saleem first appeared in court on the charges. Steven Denny, the plaintiffs' attorney, claimed the cleric "took advantage of his position of power and authority ... and the IIE covered it up."
Wigell, who does not represent Saleem in the civil suit, questioned the motivation of those advising the accusers.
"Our initial investigation is clear that the advisers to the accusers have motivations that are other than the truth and that will come forward as the case develops," Wigell said.
If convicted Saleem faces up to five years in prison. Probation is also an option.