Jonathan Elsalam, 27, a former Bellport High School teacher, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Monday to two felony charges of rape in the third degree, four felony charges of a criminal sexual act in the third degree and endangering the welfare of a minor in an alleged sexual affair with a 16-year-old former student.
Elsalam, an 11th grade tenured social studies teacher and football coach, was suspended by the South Country School District last October when the district announced it was investigating “serious accusations” against him.
Prosecutors say Elsalam systematically seduced and then carried on an affair with the underage student for nearly an entire school year.
“The sexual activity would take place in a car, in motel rooms and I think even his house,” said Jeffrey Brown, the victim’s lawyer. “In December of 2011 is when I believe the sexual activity actually took place. It ended in or about August of 2012. The flirtation started in September of 2011.”
"She was a young impressionable underage female. He seized the moment, took advantage of it, and she thought there was something going on that meant something, and it was clear that she was misguided and misled," said Brown.
"What I can say on camera is I have no comment," Elsalam's lawyer said.
In addition to the charges filed against Elsalam in this case, a $10 million federal lawsuit has been filed against Elsalam, another teacher, and the South Country School District for allegedly looking the other way and violating the student’s civil rights under federal sexual harassment laws.
The lawsuit alleges that other teachers and students knew about the relationship and the district failed to monitor Elsalam.
“He would comment, ‘you’re his girlfriend’ and would tease them. No one said anything. It just seems like everything was just understood and this was an acceptable culture,” Brown said.
"He would seem like he would flirt with some people," said Sarah Barry, a student who heard rumors of Elsalam’s exploits.
“This defendant violated a trust and stands accused of preying upon a teenage girl, one of his students,” Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said. “After reviewing the evidence and listening to testimony about these alleged crimes, a grand jury indicted him and issued a warrant culminating in his arrest last Friday evening in Ridge.”
“This is a young lady who’s got to bear this for the rest of her life; and we just hope she gets better,” Brown said of his client who is undergoing psychological treatment and no longer attends school.
Bail for Elsalam was set at $25,000 bond or $5,000 cash. He is due back in court on May 29.
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