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Former DCFS worker Carlos Acosta sentenced to six months in case of A.J. Freund

Former A.J. Freund caseworker sentenced to 6 months for role in 5-year-old's death
Former A.J. Freund caseworker sentenced to 6 months for role in 5-year-old's death 02:36

CHICAGO (CBS) — A former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employee was sentenced to six months in the McHenry County Jail in connection with the death of 5-year-old A.J. Freund.

In 2023, Carlos Acosta was convicted of two counts of child endangerment after being accused of failing to protect A.J. before his death, despite evidence of repeated abuse and neglect by his parents.

"DCFS workers have a hard job. They are overworked oftentimes. What I would say to that, in this case, it had nothing to do with this case. There is no evidence that Mr. Acosta was overworked, that he didn't have time to investigate this case," Strickland said before sentencing Acosta on Thursday. "This was truly a willful refusal to investigate, and so DCFS being overworked had nothing to do with this case."    

Acosta was accused of mishandling A.J.'s case before his mother killed him in 2019, and his parents tried to cover up his death. This was the first time child endangerment charges against a welfare worker have been successfully brought in Illinois.

"In this case, what A.J. deserved was a chance, and A.J. deserved a happy life. And what A.J. got was a shallow grave, and that is the nature and that is the circumstances of this offense. That's what happened, and yes, it was foreseeable," Judge Strickland said. "Despite his accusation when A.J. finally came forward and did the only thing a little boy could do, and that was to say that he was abused, society turned their back on him. DCFS turned their back on him. He was failed, and he's the one who suffered." 

A.J. Freund Davenport Funeral Home

Acosta also faces probation, community service after jail term

In addition to his six-month jail sentence, Acosta also was sentenced to 30 months of probation. He also must make a donation of $1,000 to the McHenry County Children's Advocacy Center and perform 200 hours of community service. 

"I am truly sorry for the pain that I have caused A.J.'s family," Acosta said before he was sentenced.

But prosecutors said Acosta showed himself to be a "defiant and apathetic DCFS employee" who "did the bare minimum" in A.J.'s case.

"He still has the audacity to sit here and pretend like he did his job. Judge, that's a joke," McHenry County Assistant State's Attorney Randi Freese said.

Outside of court, Acosta's peers came to his defense, calling his trial a witch hunt.

"Right now you have investigators being assigned 20, 25, 30 cases per month. When do they have the time to handle them appropriately?" DCFS worker Alex Medina said.

McHenry County State's Attorney said Acosta's case was not one of a simple oversight, or just a worker having a bad day on the job.

"This is a case of somebody who showed utter and complete indifference to the welfare of a child," he said.

Acosta has 30 days to file an appeal.

Former DCFS worker Carlos Acosta gets 6 months in jail in A.J. Freund case 07:00

A.J. Freund's murder

A.J., from Crystal Lake, was first reported missing by his parents in April 2019. His body was found later, and his parents, Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham, were charged with murder. 

A.J.'s father pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery, and concealing a homicide and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Cunningham pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.  

Second DCFS worker found not guilty  

Andrew Polovin, a former supervisor with DCFS, was tried alongside Acosta for mishandling A.J.'s case, but was found not guilty of all charges - two counts of child endangerment and one count of reckless conduct. 

Strickland said he could not convict, Polovin because he didn't know how much Polovin knew about the abuse A.J. faced.  

Boy Slain Illinois
Former DCFS caseworker Carlos Acosta, center, leaves court with attorney Rebecca Lee, left, inside Judge Robert Wilbrandt's courtroom on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020 at the Michael J. Sullivan Judicial Center, in Woodstock, Ill. Acosta was the caseworker assigned to the AJ Freund case. He has pleaded not guilty to child endangerment and reckless conduct charges. Matthew Apgar / AP

The case against Acosta  

Acosta and Polovin were assigned to A.J.'s DCFS case and closed it as "unfounded" in December 2018 — despite significant bruises on A.J. and deplorable living conditions.  

McHenry County prosecutors accused Acosta of ignoring red flags that might have saved A.J.'s life.  

Prosecutors said multiple police reports clearly outlined a history of problems at the family's home.

In one incident, officers were at the home and observed a bruise on the boy. Prosecutors said Acosta failed to recognize the severity of the injury and moved forward to close the case, putting A.J. and his younger brother back into the care of their mother.

An emergency room doctor who treated A.J. for the bruises testified that A.J. was not in pain, but he indicated that Cunningham used a belt to strike him. She said that was credible evidence that A.J. should remain in protective custody.

But according to prosecutors, despite those revelations, protective custody ceased when Acosta closed the case and attributed the bruising to the family dog.

But defense attorneys maintain that the former DCFS workers followed procedures, and both had limited information at the time protective custody of the child lapsed, resulting in him returning to his mother's custody.

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