Student says teacher offered to pay him for oral sex. Phil Rogers reports.
Imagine discovering that your teenage son had received thousands of text messages from a teacher, many sexually explicit, dozens in the middle of the night.
Michelle Peterson of Morris doesn't have to imagine it. She discovered the messages when she heard her son talking with someone after 10 p.m.
"I was like, 'He has no business calling you at 11 o'clock at night,'" Peterson recalls telling her son. But then she says, she found out the two had been texting. When she logged on to her family's account, she says she discovered thousands of messages between that teacher, Steffen Balegno, and her son.
Nearly 6,000, to be exact.
"I was just sick," she says. "Because I knew in my heart, this isn't just regular text messaging."
Peterson says her son, Andrew Koscik, was reluctant, at first, to divulge the content of the messages. But eventually she learned they were filled with sexual content.
"He wanted to make a sex video," Koscik says. "Put it straight out there."
Eventually, he said Balegno was offering him money for oral sex.
"It started off at 500, and then a 1,000, and then $1,500 dollars," Koscik says. "I didn't know what to say, because he was a teacher, a coach, and I was a student."
Indeed, for months, before his mother discovered the messages, Koscik told no one.
"I was 15 years old," he says. "And you don't know what to do in that situation."
Koscik was so reluctant to report the texting incidents, that when his mother contacted DCFS, he told an investigator that the text messages never crossed a line.
"I didn't want him to lose his job," says the student, who is now a freshman at Seton Hall University. "I didn't want him to get in trouble. They make you feel bad for them!"
Peterson says she didn't feel bad, but had trouble getting anyone in law enforcement to take the case seriously.
"I said, 'I know this is not the worst thing you've been dealing with, but this is the worst thing I've ever dealt with!'" she recalls.
Eventually local police took Andrew's phone to the forensics lab of the Illinois State Police. Peterson says out of more than 5,600 texts, only about a tenth could be recovered.
Indeed, Balegno's lawyer Raymond Wigell pointed to huge gaps in those texts, in some cases, hundreds of missing messages. He insists the context of the discussions was lost, and that his client had no criminal intent.
"Sometimes males, to bond with males, are crude," Wigell says. "This was an attempt by my client to help this young man through a bullying incident that happened while he was an assistant (baseball) coach."
"If you only hear the beginning or the end or a little of the middle, it's out of context," Wigell says. "There's a stupid intent, but there's not an evil intent to have sex with this young man. That was never part of his agenda, on any level."
"I don't care what context you put it in," Peterson says. "When you offer someone money for sex, that's solicitation!"
A Grundy County judge agreed. Balegno was convicted of indecent solicitation of a minor, and unlawful grooming. He is to be sentenced next month.
"Parents during this holiday season need to be vigilant about bringing digital technology into their households," says Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland. "They may be inviting the fox into the hen house."