CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ A man has been sentenced to up to 40 years in prison for sexually abusing nine children at his mother's day-care center.

''I am not a child molester,'' Gerald ''Tooky'' Amirault told the court before sentencing Thursday. ''If I must go to prison, I go with my head held high.''

''I go with love in my heart, knowing people love me. I go with questions - Why me God? I am an innocent man,'' he said.

Middlesex Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Dolan sentenced Amirault, 32, to a 30- to 40-year sentence to be served concurrently with another 30- to 40-year sentence and an eight- to 10-year term. He could be paroled in 20 years.

Defense attorney Juliane Balliro said the verdict and sentence would be appealed. A jury convicted Amirault on July 19 after deliberating 65 hours over 12 days.

He faced a maximum sentence of life in prison on each of eight rape counts and 10 years on seven indecent assault and battery counts, said Tom Samoluk, a spokesman for the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office.

Amirault was convicted of incidents involving six girls and three boys at his mother's Fells Acres Day School in Malden, which closed after the allegations were raised. His mother, Violet R. Amirault, 60, and sister, Cheryl LaFave Amirault, 29, a teacher at the center, face trials on child abuse charges.

Many of the nine child witnesses, now ages 5 to 8, testified that Amirault took them at nap time to a ''magic room'' where they were molested. They said Amirault or his mother threatened to harm their parents if they told the secret.

A married father of three, Amirault began working for his mother's day care center at age 16 as a driver, a handyman and sometime cook.