COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — A longtime Brighton Park Little League baseball coach has been charged with molesting two of his former players.
According to prosecutors, Carmelo Ramirez, 46, has coached baseball at Kelly Park for more than 12 years. He's been known to form relationships with players and their families, prosecutors said, and often took players on outings to sporting events and Six Flags Great America.
Two former players in late February accused Ramirez of molesting them from 2005 to 2007, when the boys were ages 10-12 and 12-14, respectively, prosecutors said.
The players, now 21 and 23, are cousins who decided to come forward after learning two younger relatives had signed up to play Little League with Ramirez, Assistant State's Attorney Jullian Brevard said during a bond hearing Thursday.
When asked if he'd touched the children, prosecutors said, Ramirez stated "he did not remember, and if he did, it was a lack of judgment."
Brighton Kelly Little League President Rick Barrera on Thursday said the league removed Ramirez from his coaching position as soon as officials learned about the allegations. The victims were interviewed by police Feb. 24 and 28, prosecutors said. Ramirez was arrested Feb. 28.
"He's no longer a member of the league. Period," Barrera said Thursday. "We took him off. He has no connections anymore."
Barrera didn't comment further on the case, citing the ongoing investigation. He said he plans to meet with coaches and parents to figure out how to address the issue with children and whether counseling is necessary.
According to authorities, Ramirez often invited the two victims to his house for parties and sleepovers without other adults present from 2005 to 2007. Ramirez was 35 to 37 years old at the time.
One alleged victim, who was 12 to 14 at the time, claims he once woke up at a sleepover to find Ramirez removing his pants. Ramirez is accused of performing two sex acts before leaving the room.
According to Brevard, the boy was "shocked and angry" about what happened, but felt he couldn't do anything because he was a child. He later approached Ramirez, who refused to answer questions about the incident, prosecutors said.
The same victim said he was molested at least one other time and pretended to sleep through it, Brevard said. The boy also told authorities he once saw Ramirez standing over the boy's cousin at a sleepover and made a loud noise by hitting a window, which scared off Ramirez.
The second alleged victim, who was 10 to 12 at the time, said he, too, was stripped and groped during a sleepover with Ramirez, who'd undressed the boy in his sleep, prosecutors said.
That victim reported the abuse last month after he learned his mother had signed up two younger relatives for Ramirez's baseball team, Brevard said.
When confronted with the allegations, Ramirez told prosecutors he didn't remember touching the boys, but admitted he often shared a bed with the boys during sleepovers.
Ramirez, of the 4100 block of South Maplewood Avenue, is charged with predatory criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. If convicted, he could face up to 30 years in prison.
Cook County Judge Peggy Chiampas on Thursday set bail at $100,000. If he posts bond, Ramirez is not allowed to have contact with children or coach in any way before his trial.
According to his defense attorney, Ramirez works in finance.
'We were all shocked'
Before coaching in Brighton Park, Ramirez coached a baseball team in Harrison Park in Pilsen.
"He was always a coach. We were all shocked," said a longtime Pilsen resident who asked not to be named.
Ald. George Cardenas, whose 12th Ward includes Brighton Park's Kelly Park, "abhors the accusations" against Ramirez, his spokeswoman said Thursday. Cardenas has sponsored the Little League team.
"It's always his intention to sponsor events that help the kids and not endanger them," Cardenas' spokeswoman Mac-Z Zurawski said.
On Feb 24., 15th Ward Ald. Raymond Lopez met with Ramirez and Barrera.
Lopez, whose ward neighbors Kelly Park, said he met with the men in an effort to get more neighborhood kids involved with the baseball team, an activity the alderman considered a positive alternative to gangs.
"They came to speak to me about supporting upcoming projects at Kelly Park," Lopez said. "It's really unfortunate that this happened to put a mark on what the overall goal of [Little League] is, but I think right now the emphasis has to be on helping the families affected by this."
Lopez said that if there are other victims, they should come forward, and that his office will do all it can to ensure they have "all of the assistance they need."
"I was looking forward to working with the league to bring additional resources, and I'm still committed to doing that," Lopez said. "But first and foremost, we must do all that we can to keep our children safe in light of what we just learned today."
Lopez said he will be working with the city's Department of Public Health, Department of Family Support Services, and the Police Department to help educate South Side children and their parents on the warning signs and dangers of sexual predators.
"I will be reaching out to the league president to see what we can do to help the league through this," Lopez said. "The kids need all of the support we can give."