Criminal trial to begin Monday for former DCFS case manager, supervisor assigned to AJ Freund case

Cases involving rare criminal charges against social workers to be heard before Lake County Judge George D. Strickland

Prayer cards for AJ Freund, 5, sit on a table next to the visitor guestbook May 3, 2019, at Davenport Funeral Home in Crystal Lake.

The criminal trial of two former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employees assigned to the case of a 5-year-old Crystal Lake boy killed by his parents in 2019 is set to begin Monday.

Carlos Acosta, 57, of Woodstock, and Andrew Polovin, 51, of Island Lake, each are charged with two counts of endangering the life of a child and health of a minor, Class 3 felonies, and one count of reckless conduct, a Class 4 felony, related to their handling of the AJ Freund case.

If convicted on the more serious Class 3 felony, they each face between two and five years in prison and fines of up to $25,000. The offenses also are probational.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors not related to this case commented to the Northwest Herald after the criminal charges were filed in 2020. Both sides agreed that criminal charges against social workers is rare and that it could be challenging to secure a conviction.

One attorney said that although they may have been neglectful in not following up on the child’s well-being, it ultimately was the mother who admitted to killing him.

Another said the prosecution will need to prove that Acosta and Polovin were not acting in good faith, which requires proving what was in their minds at the time.

Calls to Acosta’s and Polovin’s attorneys for comment were not returned Friday. Prosecutors and DCFS declined to comment.

The trial also is expected to include police reports, which a DCFS employee said during a pre-trial hearing in December, Acosta and Polovin should have requested following a police-activated emergency call to the child’s home on Dec. 18, 2018. AJ was killed four months later.”

—  Testimony from pre-trial hearings

The trial will be heard by Lake County Judge George D. Strickland in the McHenry County courthouse after local judges recused themselves from the case.

The trial is expected to last a week and include details surrounding the child’s death and the role his parents played in his death, as well as testimony from DCFS employees and child abuse advocates, according to testimony from pre-trial hearings and court documents.

Prosecutors could present DCFS and medical reports as evidence during trial to show that the social workers failed in protecting AJ, according to testimony at previous pre-trial hearings.

However, rulings on whether those reports and records will be considered as evidence by the judge could be decided during trial, according to testimony from past hearings.

The trial also is expected to include police reports, which a DCFS employee said during a pre-trial hearing in December that Acosta and Polovin should have requested after a police-activated emergency call to the child’s home Dec. 18, 2018.

AJ was killed four months later.

At the December hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Romito said the police reports document a history of mental illness, domestic battery, theft, drug abuse and other alleged crimes connected to AJ’s parents.

Failing to follow DCFS procedures and obtain the history of police contact with AJ’s parents and their house “put [AJ] in dangerous circumstances that led to his torture and murder [four] months later,” Romito said at the hearing.

On April 14, 2019, the boy’s mother JoAnn Cunningham, 40, beat and berated him, made him stand in a cold shower for about 20 minutes and put him to bed wet, cold and naked, according to testimony from Cunningham during a Dec. 5, 2019, hearing in which she pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

She was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

His father, Andrew Freund Sr., 64, who according to an affidavit also admitted to participating in the abuse April 14, stored the child’s body in a tote in the basement of their home at 94 Dole Ave.

Late in the evening of April 17, he took the boy’s body wrapped in plastic garbage bags and buried him in a shallow grave in a field in Woodstock, according to police reports and court records in the McHenry County courthouse.

The former attorney who met Cunningham when he represented her in a divorce years earlier then called 911 and made a false missing person’s report.

For about a week, countless numbers of people including local residents, the FBI and police agencies from across the state and Wisconsin searched in multiple locations across the county.

On the morning of April 24, Freund led police to his son’s body in an area near ComEd transmission towers off Dean Street, near Woodstock, an affidavit shows.

An autopsy concluded that the child died from blunt force trauma, the McHenry County coroner said.

Freund pleaded guilty to aggravated battery of a child, involuntary manslaughter and concealment of a homicidal death and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, according to court documents.