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Acosta pleads not guilty to child endangerment, reckless conduct in case tied to 5-year-old AJ Freund

A former Department of Children and Family services employee pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges stemming from a 2018 investigation involving Crystal Lake boy AJ Freund, who died at the hands of his parents four months later.

Carlos Acosta, 54, of Woodstock, appeared in McHenry County court Thursday morning beside his attorney, Rebecca Lee. After a judge read aloud details from the Sept. 10 grand jury indictment, Acosta pleaded not guilty to felony charges of reckless conduct and endangering the life or health of a child.

“I look forward to a speedy trial,” Acosta told the Northwest Herald after court Thursday.

His attorney has not formally entered a speedy trial demand.

Before Acosta could enter his plea, McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt noted that he previously was associated with a local group that later named Acosta its president. Before Wilbrandt became a judge in 2006, the law firm where he and his brother worked represented the McHenry County Latino Coalition. Acosta went on to become the president of the coalition and left the organization in 2009.

During his time in private practice, Wilbrandt never personally represented Acosta, he said.  Both Wilbrandt and 22nd Judicial Circuit Chief Judge James Cowlin agreed no conflict of interest would arise if Wilbrandt continued to preside over the case, Wilbrandt said.

Acosta’s attorney and McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Randi Freese agreed in open court that Wilbrandt did not need to recuse himself from the case, which was continued to Nov. 5 for a status hearing.

McHenry County sheriff’s deputies arrested Acosta and his former DCFS supervisor Andrew Polovin on Sept 10. Each of the men is charged with two felony counts of endangering the life of a child and one felony count of reckless conduct. Both Polovin and Acosta posted bond and were released from the McHenry County Jail that same day.

The men were involved in the 2018 investigation of a large bruise on AJ’s hip, which came into question again after AJ’s April 15, 2019, death.

The boy’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, 37, was sentenced in July to 35 years in prison for first-degree murder in connection with the boy’s death. The boy’s father, Andrew Freund Sr., pleaded guilty Sept. 18 to aggravated battery of a child, involuntary manslaughter, and concealment of a homicidal death. The 61-year-old Crystal Lake man was sentenced to 30 years in prison but could serve as few as 18 years under the state’s sentencing laws.

Both Polovin and Acosta were placed on desk duty in April 2019, after AJ was reported missing on April 18. The former employees were fired from DCFS in December.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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