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Cardamone pleads guilty to aggravated battery

Michael Cardamone 2012

Michael Cardamone in 2012

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Updated: December 24, 2012 6:47AM

A decade-long convoluted and controversial case against an Aurora gym coach finally came to an end Wednesday in a DuPage County courtroom, when Michael Cardamone pleaded guilty to seven counts of aggravated battery and seven counts of unlawful restraint in a public place.

The felony counts carry a 10-year sentence, but because of credit for time served, Cardamone does not have to return to prison. He also pleaded guilty to one count of perjury, and was sentenced to two years probation on that charge.

Because the felony crimes “were not sexually motivated,” as Judge Blanche Fawell declared in court, Cardamone will not have to register as a sex offender. He will, however, be required to register as a violent offender against children for the next 10 years.

On Wednesday, six of the victims, now in their late teens to mid 20s, read impact statements. And some became emotional as they described how Cardamone’s actions as the coach they respected continues to affect them today.

“You took my innocence,” one victim read.

“I cannot fathom abusing an innocent child the way you did,” another victim read.

“I think about it on a daily basis. It is so hard to trust and let someone in,” said yet another.

Several of the young women indicated they are now working with other victims of abuse.

In a statement to the press, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin declared that the protection of children “always has been and will continue to be a top priority” of his office.

“After all these years Michael Cardamone has finally admitted that he had inappropriate contact with 14 young girls when he was their gymnastics coach,” Berlin said.

“This case has been ongoing for a long time and in all that time, these young victims never wavered, never gave up on exposing the truth. They have endured nearly a decade of court proceedings and today is their day.”

Cardamone, speaking at Wednesday’s hearing, denied that his conduct as a gym coach was ever sexually motivated.

“I never sexually abused anyone ever,” he said, adding that, “My ultimate prayer with today’s conclusion to this case is that everyone involved can hopefully now move forward with some closure, that this horrific chapter in our lives is behind us.”

First accused in December of 2002, Cardamone went to trial three years later, charged with inappropriately touching 14 of his students at his family’s American Institute of Gymnastics & Preschool on Aurora’s far East Side. He vehemently denied wrongdoing, saying the accusations could be linked to his decision to split up the girls who’d trained together so long. Cardamone was found guilty of abusing half the girls and acquitted of the most serious charges.

He had been incarcerated for almost five of a 20-year sentence when the conviction was overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court. The appellate court ruled that at trial in DuPage County Court, overly prejudicial testimony was allowed, and testimony was not allowed about how young children can be manipulated as trial witnesses.

Set free in March 2008, Cardamone was immediately indicted on perjury charges; and his mother Linda Lynch and her office manager at the family gym were charged with altering the coach’s schedule to aid in his defense.

In May of 2011, Joe Birkett, then-DuPage state’s attorney and now a judge with the Second District Appellate Court, recharged Cardamone with nine counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. A few months later Judge Blanche Hill Fawell dismissed those latest charges, saying they carried “an appearance of vindictiveness.”

A new trial was set for April of this year, but continued to be postponed.

While awaiting a resolution, Cardamone divorced his wife and got custody of his two young sons, went back to school and started a heating and air conditioning business. All the while, he maintained DuPage prosecutors had put multiple plea offers on the table, threatening seven separate trials if he didn’t agree. Until recently, Cardamone has flatly refused them all.

Immediately after the court appearance, Cardamone left to register with the violent offenders list and to get the ankle bracelet he’s been wearing for over three years removed.

“This is not the ending we deserve,” said his sister, Alysha Millard, “but after 10 long years of fighting for what is right, we deserve an ending.”

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