Women's testimony allowed in sexual abuse case against Elgin imam
Two women who claim a prominent imam sexually molested them during the early 1980s will be allowed to testify if the current case against him goes to trial, Cook County Judge James Karahalios ruled Wednesday.
Mohammad Abdullah Saleem, 77, was charged in February 2015 with criminal sexual abuse and aggravated battery of another woman, a then-22-year old female office manager at the Institute of Islamic Education, an Elgin school for children in sixth through 12th grades which Saleem founded and led.
That woman claimed Saleem repeatedly hugged her, touched her and massaged her against her will between October 2013 and April 2014.
In December 2015, Cook County prosecutors filed additional charges against Saleem, who they say sexually abused a 14-year-old student at the Elgin school between 2001 and 2003. That accuser came forward in December 2014 after learning Saleem had been charged with abusing the office manager.
Saleem, a native of India and a naturalized U.S. citizen, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Because the statute of limitations has run out on the cases involving the two women who say they were abused in the 1980s, when they were between 12 and 13, Saleem will not face criminal charges in those cases.
Defense attorney Raymond Wigell argued against Karahalios allowing the women to testify, suggesting their allegations are politically motivated by members of the Muslim community who oppose Saleem.
"Reading (the allegations) in court doesn't make them true," Wigell said. "If allegations convict people, without evidentiary hearings, we're all in trouble."
The women's allegations were "strikingly similar," said Cook County assistant state's attorney Jaclyn Lantz, arguing their accounts should be admitted at trial.
Each accuser was either Saleem's student or employee, and each claimed he kissed and groped them over their clothes without permission when they were alone with him, Lantz said.
"He was aware of what he was doing, how he chose each (accuser) and how he touched them," she said.
Karahalios also granted prosecutors' motion to reconsider admitting into evidence a document he had previously barred because it was too vague. In the document signed by Saleem, the cleric admits his behavior, agrees to resign and stop teaching females, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors' latest motion provided more context, Karahalios said in his ruling.
Wigell acknowledged his client reduced his duties and resigned as the Islamic institute's president but attributed it to Saleem's age.