Judge sentences former Illinois child welfare worker to jail in boy's death

CHICAGO (AP) — A judge sentenced a former Illinois state child welfare worker to six months in jail Thursday in connection with a 5-year-old boy's death.

Lake County Associate Judge George Strickland also ordered Carlos Acosta to contribute $1,000 to a local children's advocacy center and perform 200 hours of public service, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Strickland acquitted Acosta of reckless conduct but convicted him of child endangerment in October in connection with the death of Andrew “AJ” Freund of Crystal Lake. Acosta was accused of ignoring numerous warning signs that the boy was being abused prior to his death.

The boy died in April 2019 after his mother, JoAnn Cunningham, beat him. She is serving a 35-year sentence for his murder. The boy's father, Andrew Freund Sr., was sentenced to 30 years in prison for covering up the killing by burying the boy's body in a field.

Police took AJ into protective custody in December 2018 after an officer noticed a large bruise on the boy's hip. The officer had visited the boy's home after his mother called police to report her ex-boyfriend had stolen her cellphone and a drug used to treat heroin addiction.

A doctor recommended that the boy not be released to his mother but Acosta ended protective custody and let the boy go home with his father. The judge found that Acosta's reports repeatedly omitted potential signs of abuse, such as marks on the boy's face and the family's terrible living conditions.

Defense attorneys Rebecca Lee and Jamie Wombacher argued prosecutors and witnesses were speculating and using hindsight of the child's death to scapegoat Acosta and the state Department of Children and Family Services was violating a court order limiting investigators' cases.