RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A Long Island man is accused of sexually abusing at least seven foster children in his care at a home prosecutors described as a "house of horrors."
Cesar Gonzalez-Mugaburu, 60, of Ridge, pleaded not guilty to child endangerment and sexual misconduct charges at his arraignment Friday in state Supreme Court in Riverhead.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said the victims, who were as young as 8, were forced to live under punishing conditions.
"Physical contact, physical abuse, hitting them, denying them meals, making them stand out in the cold," Spota said.
Neighbors claimed they saw some of the children rummaging through garbage cans in search of food, Spota said.
Mugaburu fostered 140 children over 19 years, earning as much as $18,000 a month, authorities said. The children were all boys with special needs.
The floodgates opened when seven boys recently came forward, afraid until now to admit the heinous abuse, CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported. The district attorney said Mugaburu also abused the family dog.
The victims said he threatened and controlled them with physical beatings, cutting off cell phone contact, not allowing girlfriends, and giving them two meals a day.
CBS2 asked neighbors if they had suspicions.
"We've seen him always putzing out there with his cars and the kids doing yard work, tidying up the place," neighbor Christine Stein told CBS2.
"I've talked to them, played baseball with them, never complained. It's insane. I never would have thought this," neighbor Patrick Cawley said.
Authorities said the children were placed in his care by New York City child welfare officials and SCO Family of Services, a non-profit group on Long Island.
"SCO Family of Services is aware that the Suffolk County District Attorney has filed charges against a former SCO foster parent in connection with allegations of abuse and maltreatment," the group said in a statement. "SCO considers the safety and wellbeing of children in our programs to be our absolute highest priority. We are cooperating with authorities as they continue their investigation. "
A spokeswoman for New York City's Administration for Children's Services didn't immediately comment on the allegations.
The defense attorney denies Muguaburu was ever abusive, calling him a doting and caring father who was never in trouble with the law.
The district attorney wants to know if the nonprofit organization ever made house calls or checked up on Mugaburu in any way. Detectives said they expect there are dozens more victims.
He is being held on $500,000 bail. He faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted.
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