An Elgin cleric on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to an eight-count indictment charging him with sexually abusing a 22-year-old employee at an Islamic school.
Mohammad Abdullah Saleem, a well-known Muslim cleric who founded and once headed the Institute of Islamic Education, an Elgin private school for students in sixth through 12th grades, appeared before Cook County Judge James Karahalios.
Saleem, 75, was accused last month of sexually abusing the employee from October 2013 through April 14, 2014.
He was indicted on charges of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, attempted aggravated criminal sexual abuse, aggravated battery of a school employee, criminal sexual abuse and unlawful restraint.
The woman said he repeatedly hugged her, touched her and massaged her against her will in her office at the school.
As has been the case during previous hearings, about two dozen Saleem supporters attended the hearing. Also present were several people who supported Saleem's accuser, who did not attend the hearing.
Saleem, who is a native of India and a naturalized U.S. citizen, has no criminal background. He is free on a $250,000 bail.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, defense attorney Raymond Wigell said prosecutors "purportedly have DNA evidence gathered at the alleged scene." But DNA evidence does not equal guilt, Wigell said.
Saleem did not make a statement to police, Wigell said. However, the attorney acknowledged "there is a potential statement out there."
Prosecutors say several other accusers came forward after the woman reported the abuse to police. She and four others filed a lawsuit last month saying Saleem "took advantage of his position of power and authority ... and the IIE covered it up," according to the plaintiffs' attorney, Steven Denny.
If convicted, Saleem faces up to seven years in prison. Probation is also an option. He next appears in court on May 19.