Man spends year in jail for crime he says he didn't commit: 'It destroyed my family'

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Your freedom can be taken from you in an instant. That’s the message a Gwinnett County man and his attorney have after police arrested him for a crime he said he didn’t commit.

Police arrested Ilya Zaretsky, 45, last September on charges he raped a younger relative.

At the time, investigators claimed he drugged the teen with sleeping pills and had sex with her.

"I was stunned," the Peachtree Corners man told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik. "I couldn't believe anything like this could have happened."

Zaretsky told Petchenik the arrest took a huge toll.

“It destroyed my family,” he said. “I had a career that I built over 17 years and it destroyed my career.”

As Zaretsky sat in jail without bond, his defense attorney, Jay Abt, said he began investigating the allegations and was shocked by what he found.

“This was the detective’s first rape case,” said Abt. “She was very inexperienced.”

Court documents Abt shared with Petchenik show the detective admitted at a preliminary hearing that she hadn’t collected key evidence or spoken to possible witnesses, and that she arrested Zaretsky on the word of the accuser and her mother.


“She had not collected any DNA. She had not collected the clothing from the victim, the sheets from the house, she never even went and inspected the crime scene where the alleged rape occurred,” said Abt. “She didn’t question several people who were in the house that night.”

Abt said the allegations surfaced four months after the accuser said the rape occurred and only after Zaretsky filed for divorce from his wife, whom Abt said is related to the teen’s mother.

“Even after this alleged rape occurred, this young client was coming over to my client’s house every day to spend time with my client, his family and no one does that if they’ve been the victim of a rape,” he said.

Zaretsky and Abt said they also planned to present evidence at trial that members of the accuser’s family tried to extort Zaretsky’s family for money in exchange for her recanting her story.

“She was used by her mother, who is directly related to my now-ex wife,” said Zaretsky. “They found an easy target.”

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter told Petchenik when it came time to prepare for trial, investigators re-interviewed the accuser and her stories didn’t match up.

“When you break down the original statement, it is impossible for the act to have occurred in the way it was described,” Porter said. “The physics of it don’t work.”

Porter told Petchenik that information, coupled with the lack of due diligence on the part of the detective, caused his office to sign paperwork Monday not to prosecute the case because it couldn’t meet its burden of proof, and Zaretsky was released.

“He’s a very religious person. An Orthodox Jew,” Abt said of Zaretsky. “The day they released him from jail, by coincidence, was the highest holy day of the Jewish religion, Rosh Hashanah.”

Abt called it divine intervention.

“It’s like a miracle, a gift from God that he was granted his freedom on the Jewish New Year,” he said.

Zaretsky said his time in jail was difficult, but his faith kept him going.

“My son actually attempted suicide while I was incarcerated because he missed his father,” he said.

“Not to see your own children grow up, get married. It was unacceptable to me and thankfully I had the right team, the right guy.”

Abt said he hopes what happened is a wake-up call for Gwinnett County police and other departments that investigate similar allegations.

Gwinnett County police told Petchenik they had no comment on the outcome of the case.

“Too often in our society we have innocent people who are getting locked up and sitting in jail for long periods of time unless and until a member of the defense bar comes and fights on their behalf,” he said. “We need to focus more on getting police the right training and making sure the police have the right resources so there’s not a knee-jerk reaction to arrest someone before a thorough police investigation is done. A thorough investigation was not done in this case.”