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Bloomington, Ill., sergeant pleads not guilty in 4 rapes

Associated Press Writer

BLOOMINGTON, Illinois- A police sergeant accused of four rapes dating back to 2002 pleaded not guilty to all charges Friday, two days after a grand jury returned a 35-count indictment against him.

Clad in a blue jail jumpsuit and flanked by sheriff's deputies, Sgt. Jeff Pelo, 41, said "I love you" in sign language to his wife but did not speak during the roughly three-minute hearing.

McLean County Judge Ronald Dozier set a status hearing for Sept. 7.

In the indictment returned Wednesday and unsealed Thursday, a McLean County grand jury alleges the 17-year department veteran sexually assaulted three of his four victims multiple times during one-night attacks.

In the last alleged attack, in January 2005, Pelo is charged with 18 counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, alleging he raped the woman twice and also assaulted her repeatedly with his fingers and other objects.

Pelo also is charged with four counts of aggravated sexual assault in each of two other attacks, and a single count in another.

Along with 27 counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, Pelo is charged with three counts of home invasion and two counts aggravated unlawful restraint that allege he used a knife and gun in one of the attacks and a knife in another.

Pelo also is charged with two counts of residential burglary and one count of intimidation, which alleges he threatened to harm the family of his last alleged victim if she contacted police.

Some of the charges carry prison sentences of up to 45 years and prosecutors say Pelo could effectively spend the rest of his life in jail if convicted.

Defense attorney Steve Skelton has called the state's case flimsy and said he hopes DNA evidence was collected because it would clear his client. Prosecutors say they are working on DNA evidence.

Police said they found a mask, pry bar and other items in Pelo's home that appeared to have been used in at least one of the assaults. Prosecutors also say three of the accusers have identified him from photo lineups and two identified him by voice.

Pelo pleaded not guilty last month to charges stemming from an alleged break-in attempt at a woman's home about a month before the rape charges were filed.

In that case, prosecutors say police found Pelo lurking outside the woman's Bloomington home after she reported a break-in attempt after midnight on June 10. Pelo, who was wearing a black T-shirt and shorts, told the officer he was out looking for a home for his mother-in-law.

Prosecutors charged Pelo with attempted burglary and later added a charge of aggravated stalking, alleging he stalked that woman at least twice before.

Pelo, who is jailed in lieu of more than $2 million bond, is on paid administrative leave and still collecting his $81,000 annual salary. City officials say they opted to continue paying Pelo to spare his alleged victims from testifying in a disciplinary hearing as well as criminal proceedings.

If convicted, Pelo would automatically lose his job because felons cannot serve as police officers. He also would forfeit his police pension.

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