PUTNAM COUNTY, N.Y. -- A former school bus driver and babysitter from Brewster has been sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted of sexually abusing a 6-year-old girl.
Michael Cunningham, 68, was arrested in July 2014 following an investigation into the sexual abuse of the child.
He was convicted on two counts of sexual abuse in the first degree following a jury trial in May and sentenced by Putnam County Supreme Court Judge James Rooney.
The 14-year sentence for two counts of felony child abuse will be followed by five years of post-release supervision, the maximum sentence allowed by law.
Cunningham worked for a time as a bus driver in the Katonah-Lewisboro and Brewster school districts before retiring in 2004. The case involving the 6-year-old is unrelated to that work, Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy said.
Prosecutors argued Cunningham worked to gain a position of trust with the child’s parents over a period of time, eventually offering to babysit. The jury’s guilty verdict was unanimous. Assistant District Attorney Danielle Pascale asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence because Cunningham groomed and manipulated the child before abusing her.
“This was a man we trusted, we opened our hearts, opened our home to him. We cared about him, and he hurt us in the worst possible way,” the child’s mother said after sentencing, according to a statement released by Levy's office. “No child, no family, should go through what we went through.
"Danielle (Pascale) and (Special Crimes Investigator Lourdes) "LuLu" (Gonzalez) and the CAC (Child Advocacy Center) worked so hard and helped us. Very hard. Now he’s going to be in jail for a very long time and we don’t have to see him anymore. Never.”
Levy praised Pascale, Gonzalez and investigator John Alfano of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department for their "impeccable work in building a strong case, while ensuring the child and the child’s family were not further traumatized."
Levy also commended the staff at the Child Advocacy Center, who ensured the family received the services and counseling needed to begin recovery, and for accompanying the family throughout the trial.
“The sexual abuse of an innocent child is a truly abhorrent crime, and this sentence will ensure Michael Cunningham does not have an opportunity to victimize any other families,” Levy said. “The child and her family should be commended for their bravery in working closely with us and seeing the prosecution through.”
Parents whose children may have had contact with Cunningham are encouraged to contact Pascale at 845-808-1050.
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