Updated 5 pm, Tuesday, April 24
Following an investigation by several law enforcement agencies, Chilmark Police arrested Steven A. Schwab, 64, of Chilmark on Wednesday, April 18, and charged him with two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14, and two counts of open and gross lewdness. The charges arise from crimes police allege occurred in Chilmark and West Tisbury.
“Mr. Schwab did not deny any of the allegations, and appropriate charges were applied for through the Edgartown District Court clerk magistrate’s office,” Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi said in a press statement Friday.
Mr. Schwab was arraigned in Edgartown District Court on Thursday, April 19. Bail was set at $5,000 and he was ordered to surrender his passport. Mr. Schwab paid the bail and was released.
The court imposed several conditions, which include no contact with any children under the age of 16. He must also stay away from all Island schools, report to the probation department each week, and continue with ongoing counseling.
The charges followed an investigation of incidents that occurred in the two up-Island towns, police said.
West Tisbury police, State police, Tisbury police, Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, and Children’s Cove Child Advocacy Center in Hyannis assisted in the investigation.
Chief Cioffi said that police continue to investigate the case and that he would have no further comment at this time.
Mr. Schwab and his wife own a house in Chilmark and a summer cottage in West Tisbury. The couple is separated, according to court documents. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Schwab, a Chilmark registered voter, was living on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in Tisbury.
According to police reports filed in district court this week, Mr. Schwab repeatedly exposed himself to a juvenile girl over a period of about one year and a half, from July 2007 to November 2008. The girl was 7 years old when the abuse began, according to the report.
Mr. Schwab relied on promises of secrecy from his victim to conceal his behavior, according to the report.
In November 2008, family members became aware of his actions and confronted Mr. Schwab. He agreed to seek treatment.
The police investigation began when a therapist contacted the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) to report a case of possible child abuse. Therapists are “mandated reporters,” required to report information about child abuse.
On April 3, Lenny Fontes, a forensics child sexual assault interviewer at Children’s Cove in Hyannis, called Chilmark Police who attended a scheduled interview with one of the victims. The center assists and advocates for sexually abused children throughout the law enforcement process or other investigations, and beyond.
On Wednesday, April 18, Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi and officer Elizabeth Elwell met with Mr. Schwab in the Tisbury Police Station conference room, where he corroborated the victim’s account, police said.
“Mr. Schwab stated that what he did was devious and wrong,” Chief Cioffi wrote in his report. “Mr. Schwab further stated that he has been diagnosed as a sex addict by a certified psychologist and that he regularly attends group help sessions for sex addictions.”
Mr. Schwab told police in the course of the interview that he had viewed and downloaded child pornography from the Internet. “He stated that he would send and receive pictures over the Internet, go into chat rooms and download videos,” Officer Elwell wrote in her report.
“Steve stated several times that he clearly had a problem and was working towards fixing it,” Officer Elwell said.
Tisbury and Chilmark police accompanied Mr. Schwab to his house where he surrendered a “large collection of handguns” to police for safekeeping. Mr. Cioffi suspended and took possession of Mr. Schwab’s firearms license.
Mr. Schwab gave permission to Tisbury Detective Santon to take his computer. “Detective Santon agreed that he would pursue an investigation into the possibility of child pornography crimes.”
Mr. Schwab was placed under arrest and taken to the Dukes County Jail.
The abuse allegations came to light last month after a therapist treating Mr. Schwab’s wife reported it. According to police, Mr. Schwab began attending therapy sessions soon after his family became aware of the abuse several years earlier.
Massachusetts law requires mandated reporters to immediately make an oral or written report to DCF when, “in their professional capacity, they have reasonable cause to believe that a child under the age of 18 years is suffering from abuse and/or neglect.”
Mandated reporters include medical and educational professionals, counselors, firefighters, police officers, clergy, psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers, drug and alcoholism counselors.
Any mandated reporter who fails to make required oral and written reports can be punished by a fine and or jail time, depending on the nature of the abuse. If DCF determines that a child has been sexually abused or sexually exploited, it is required by law to notify local law enforcement, as well as the district attorney, both of which have the authority to file criminal charges.
A psychologist or psychiatrist is required to report child abuse, regardless of the setting or the doctor-patient relationship, according to Russ Ames, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine. Mr. Ames told The Times in a telephone call on April 24 that a failure to report would be a violation of law and could result in disciplinary action by the board, depending on the specific circumstances.
Mr. Schwab, vice-president of Martha’s Vineyard Insurance Agency, is a well known Island businessman with a history of community good works. He served on the Chilmark School building committee and helped shepherd the politically nettlesome project to completion. He was for many years chairman of the Chilmark housing committee, and he is a member of the Chilmark human resources board.
Mr. Schwab is also a school volunteer at the Edgartown School. Principal John Stevens said that Mr. Schwab has participated in the school’s enrichment program for several years and worked with students interested in rocketry.
Mr. Stevens told The Times that after Edgartown Police notified him of Mr. Schwab’s arrest, he sent an email letter to teachers and the parents of students in the rocketry club telling them of the arrest.
“This person is no longer associated with the school and not permitted on any school campus on the Island,” Mr. Stevens wrote in an email dated April 19 to teachers. “The alleged victim is not a student at this school, and to our knowledge, nothing inappropriate has taken place involving this individual at our school. I am working closely with the Edgartown Police Department to ensure the safety and security of our students.”
Mr. Stevens asked teachers to contact police if they have any information that may relate to the charges. He said school counselors would be available if students have questions or concerns when they return from school vacation on Monday.
In a similar email to parents, Mr. Stevens wrote, “We ask that you take this opportunity to speak with your child about the importance of personal safety and the need to communicate with trusted adults.”
In a phone conversation with The Times Friday, Mr. Stevens said Mr. Schwab passed a CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) check in March and was always with a staff member. “We had no reason to believe anything was wrong,” Mr. Stevens said.
The news came as a shock to Mr. Schwab’s co-workers at Martha’s Vineyard Insurance Agency (MVI).
“Steve has been a loyal employee and good friend for many years. We are all shocked by this news,” Bill Brown, MVI president said in a telephone call late Friday. “We do support Steve and do hope that he gets the help that he needs. Our hearts go out to the victim and their family.”