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School Bus Aide Not Guilty of Assault

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that a 63-year-old Russian-born school bus aide probably was applying standards from a bygone era and did not abuse, assault or commit sexual offenses against five special education students last year.

“[Accepted behaviors] are not what they were 20 years ago,” Judge Durke C. Thompson said. “The court will find the defendant not guilty on all counts.”

That brought tears to the eyes of Ezaria Ezar Ilkhanoff, a Rockville resident, who once coached Iran’s Olympic boxing team. Two family members, a man and woman, rushed forward to hug and kiss him.

Judge Thompson also said the children rehearsed for their court appearances and “debriefed in group settings,” which may have altered their descriptions in court of what happened to them individually.

That drew a denial from State’s Attorney Robert L. Dean, who said “they were being prepared, not coached.”

Defense attorney Barry Helfand agreed with Judge Thompson’s comments, saying, “My client was a grandfather figure with a grandfatherly attitude. . . . He said he’d like to get his respect back.”

Regaining his kindly reputation may be difficult, Mr. Helfand said, explaining that Mr. Ilkhanoff does not plan to seek reinstatement to his job and will be a subject of lawsuits that parents of the children said they will file.

Attorney Laura Kane confirmed that the lawsuits likely will be filed soon against Mr. Ilkhanoff and Montgomery County public schools.

Mr. Ilkhanoff was arrested Dec. 23 on charges of abusing the children on buses transporting them for Laytonsville Elementary and Highland View Elementary schools.

Testimonies from the children, ages 5 through 11, during the four-day trial were that Mr. Ilkhanoff had choked, slapped, patted their buttocks, exposed himself and pressed himself against one girl.

But Judge Thompson pointed out inconsistencies in the testimonies. The choking was also described as tickling.

One child’s note to a teacher “differed dramatically” from a long, detailed account submitted in the court proceeding, Judge Thompson said.

One girl testified that Mr. Ilkhanoff ordered her to sit next to him, then exposed and pressed himself against her. But Judge Thompson said that the testimony of the other three students did not corroborate her story.

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"It’s one of the biggest cases that’s been tried in Montgomery County in a long time,” said Steve VanGrack, a Rockville lawyer considering a Democratic bid for state’s attorney." Washington Post