By Curtis Skinner
(Reuters) - A New York foster parent of 140 children over two decades has been indicted for alleged sexual abuse of seven boys, endangering the welfare of children who were reported to have rummaged through garbage for food and bestiality, prosecutors said on Friday.
Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu was indicted on 16 charges of sexual misconduct and endangering the welfare of the boys and one charge for sexual conduct with a dog, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said.
Officials said Gonzales-Mugaburu took in 140 children, all of whom were boys, during this period. Spota said he knew of the victimization of other children during this period, but the statute of limitations prevented prosecutions of those alleged crimes.
Authorities said they had investigated complaints in the past against Gonzales-Mugaburu but were never able to substantiate them. Spota said he would also investigate why children were being placed with Gonzales-Mugaburu and how the abuse occurred for so long.
"To have these type of acts committed upon them, it's disturbing, that it was allowed to go on for so long," Suffolk County Police Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante told reporters at a news conference, adding some of the children had emotional problems beforehand.
Gonzales-Mugaburu's attorney, Dan Driscoll, could not be immediately reached for comment.
The abuse began in 1996 at Gonzales-Mugaburu's home in the hamlet of Ridge, some 65 miles (105 km) northeast of downtown New York City, and continued through 2015, Spota said.
Spota said victims told investigators they were physically abused, denied meals and forced to stand outside in the cold as punishment. Spota added that neighbors told detectives they saw children rummaging through garbage cans for food multiple times.
Spota said Gonzales-Mugaburu was paid as much as $2,400 per child under his care and may have had as many as eight children at his home at a time. He also adopted five of the seven children he allegedly abused, officials said.
St. Christopher-Ottilie Child and Family Services of New York placed children in Gonzales-Mugaburu's care. It said in a statement they were cooperating with authorities.
"SCO considers the safety and well-being of children in our programs to be our absolute highest priority," the statement said.
Spota said the New York City Administration of Children's Services contracted with St. Christopher-Ottilie to place children with Gonzales-Mugaburu. The agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gonzales-Mugaburu is due to be in court on Tuesday, the prosecutor's office said. If convicted, he could face 50 years in prison, Spota said.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)