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Bellport High School teacher acquitted of rape charge

Jonathan Elsalam darts past reporters during his trial at the Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead.
Photo Credit: Mike Balsamo

A Bellport High School teacher who was removed from the classroom after being accused of carrying out a sexual affair with an underage student was acquitted on felony rape and criminal sexual act charges Tuesday, Suffolk County prosecutors said Feb. 25.

After a nearly two-week-long trial, a Suffolk County jury acquitted Jonathan Elsalam, 28, of Ridge, of two counts of third-degree rape and four counts of third-degree criminal sexual act after deliberating for a little more than a day.

Despite finding him not guilty on nearly every count, the panel convicted the educator of a misdemeanor child endangerment count, which could potentially land Elsalam behind bars for up to one year.

When he was indicted in May 2013, prosecutors alleged Elsalam engaged in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female student from December 2011 to May 2012.

During his trial, the alleged victim testified about two of the purported sexual trysts and the district attorney’s office presented more than 19,000 text messages between the teen and her teacher.

Elsalam’s attorney, David Besso, argued there was no evidence the two had sex and questioned whether the victim’s testimony was reliable, accusing her of trying to bolster a multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit her family filed against the school.

The day he was arrested, the victim’s family filed a lawsuit against Elsalam, the South Country School District and another teacher for unspecified damages after alleging the school dialed to prevent against “sexual abuse by a teacher.”

Elsalam was removed from his post at Bellport High School in October 2012 after school administrators began to investigate “serious charges,” school officials said at the time. The school district superintendent could not be reached Tuesday evening for comment.

Elsalam could not be reached Tuesday night for comment and did not respond to previous requests for comment after his removal from the classroom and his arrest.

He will be back in court on May 9 for sentencing.

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