Elgin cleric pleads guilty to sexually abusing school employee, student

  • Mohammed Abdullah Saleem, front, leaves the Rolling Meadows courthouse Thursday. His attorney, Donna Rotunno, is at right.

      Mohammed Abdullah Saleem, front, leaves the Rolling Meadows courthouse Thursday. His attorney, Donna Rotunno, is at right. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Mohammed Abdullah Saleem leaves the Rolling Meadows courthouse Thursday.

      Mohammed Abdullah Saleem leaves the Rolling Meadows courthouse Thursday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Mohammad Abdullah Saleem

    Mohammad Abdullah Saleem

 
 
Updated 8/25/2016 6:17 PM

An Elgin cleric pleaded guilty Thursday to sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl and a 22-year-old office manager at the Islamic school he founded.

Mohammad Abdullah Saleem, 77, was sentenced to 24 months of probation in exchange for his guilty plea to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As a condition of his plea, Saleem must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and cannot come within 500 feet of any school or university, public or private.

Cook County Judge James Karahalios ordered Saleem to have no contact with any females, except for relatives, without another woman present. He also ordered Saleem to stay away from the Institute of Islamic Education, a school for children in grades six through 12, but said the imam could go to the adjacent mosque for worship.

Saleem, a native of India and a naturalized U.S. citizen, has since resigned from his position as IIE president and no longer works at the institute.

Defense attorney Donna Rotunno said her client has expressed remorse and pleaded guilty because he "realized a trial would not be good for his community."

"This has been very difficult for this faith-based community," she said.

A lawsuit is pending against Saleem filed by four women and one man seeking damages for sexual abuse they claim occurred decades ago.

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Cook County assistant state's attorney Jaclyn Lantz said she spoke with both victims Thursday morning. Neither sought jail time and both accepted the terms of the plea, Lantz said.

"What was most important to them was the defendant was taking responsibility for his actions and admitting what he had done to them," she said.

The guilty plea ends a case that began in February 2015 when Saleem was accused of sexually abusing the employee not long after she started working at the institute. The woman claimed Saleem repeatedly hugged her, touched her and massaged her against her will between October 2013 and April 2014. In April 2014, the woman said Saleem forced her to sit on his lap. She quit her job two days later.

In December 2015, Cook County prosecutors filed additional charges after a second accuser, a former student, came forward after she learned of the investigation. Prosecutors say Saleem sexually abused the then 14-year-old from Aug. 1, 2001, to Sept. 1, 2003. The girl reported the abuse, which consisted of Saleem touching her and making her sit on his lap, to institute employees "but nothing was done," Lantz said.

Afsar Ali, a member of the Muslim Community Center in Chicago, praised the victims' courage and expressed relief they would be spared from testifying.

"I'm glad they were standing firm," Ali said.

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