Steve Schwab sentenced to two years on molestation charge

Assistant district attorney Laura Marshard in court in 2013. – Ralph Stewart

Former Chilmark community leader and Island Insurance salesman Steven A. Schwab was sentenced Friday in Edgartown District Court to serve a total of two years in the Dukes County House of Correction for molesting a seven-year-old child.

Presiding Justice H. Gregory Williams accepted a plea agreement by which Mr. Schwab, 65, pleaded guilty to indecent assault on a child, assault, and two charges of lewdness.

According to a police report, Mr. Schwab repeatedly exposed himself to the young victim, tried to kiss her, and made her promise never to tell anyone about it.

Judge Williams ordered Mr. Schwab taken into custody in the courtroom. “You are committed,” Judge Williams said from the bench.

Mr. Schwab, tall and lean but standing slightly stooped, put his arms behind his back as court bailiffs handcuffed his wrists. The mother of the victim and supporters, as well as Mr. Schwab’s wife, watched from the court benches.

It was the culmination of a dramatic morning of testimony surrounding the fall from grace of the well-known Island resident.

Crime was committed

The mother of the victim gave a victim’s impact statement. Quietly, but in measured tone, she spoke directly to Judge Williams.

She said the age of her daughter, seven years old at the time of the assaults, and the extended length of time over which she was molested warranted severe punishment.

“I forgave Steve from the very beginning, and I still do, but a crime has been committed,” she said. “I don’t feel anger, I don’t know why, I just feel sadness, for (victim). I think that Steve should register as a sex offender, because he is a sex offender. I think he should serve time in jail. He and others of his ilk need to know this is not going to be tolerated. I don’t understand what pleasure he got out of seeing the fear [the victim experienced] each time he exposed himself to her.”

Judge Williams rejected a request from defense attorney Timothy Kelliher that Mr. Schwab serve an unspecified period of time in jail, followed by a period of house arrest.

Cape & Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marshard recommended a sentence of two and a half years, with one year to serve. The judge also departed from that recommendation.

Instead, Judge Willams said he would be inclined to accept a plea that included two consecutive one-year jail sentences.

“That’s what I would find acceptable today,” Judge Williams said. “If there is a trial, it would be a different matter, a significantly different matter.”

After a short recess and a discussion with his attorney, Mr. Schwab returned to court, and his attorney said he would agree to plead guilty and accept two years in jail.

Ms. Marshard said the Commonwealth was satisfied with the four guilty pleas.

“With a plea, Mr. Schwab would be sparing [the victim] from having to go through a trial,” she said. “It’s obviously very difficult (for her) to be in his presence, and have all those incidents relived.”

Double life

Mr. Schwab admitted in court that the prosecutor’s description of the crimes was essentially accurate. In arguing for leniency, Mr. Kelliher said Mr. Schwab was not always the respected community leader many people thought he was.

“He’s led a double life his entire time on this Island,” Mr. Kelliher said. “He was very, very prominent in the community, but then he was going away to have sex with prostitutes and other people.”

In arguing for leniency, Mr. Kelliher said his client accepted responsibility for his crimes.

“It was his fault that he was exposing himself and touching her and kissing her,” Mr. Kelliher said. “That was wrong, and he knows he’s going to jail.”

Mr. Kelliher said no other children were molested, and that Mr. Schwab is not a pedophile.

Judge Williams questioned that characterization sharply.

“Once I hear this defendant is attracted to a seven year old girl, how is that not pedophilia?” Judge Williams asked Mr. Schwab’s therapist from the bench.

“Well, your honor, pedophilia is…” said therapist Francesca Caton-Diaz.”

“It’s a sexual attraction to children, is it not?” Judge Williams interjected.

“Yes,” replied Ms. Caton-Diaz. “He became addicted to pornography, adult pornography. Toward the end of that there started to be some child pornography. You have to have a predisposition, you have to have a mindset, that that’s your arousal, that’s your trigger. That has never been him, until that time, and never since.”

Where to serve

The lawyers made vigorous arguments over where Mr. Schwab should serve his jail sentence.

The Massachusetts Department of Correction assigns prisoners to a corrections facility. Though the judge can make a recommendation as part of his sentence, he has no authority to order where the sentence is to be served.

The first to address the issue in court was the victim’s mother, in her victim’s impact statement.

“I ask that the jail time be served off Island,”she said. “I think (victim) might feel better about that.”

Ms. Marshard argued that the Mr. Schwab and the Island community would be best served if Mr. Schwab was assigned to a facility where he can get treatment.

“It seems that Bridgewater, Walpole, and Gardner all have sex offender treatment programs that are state certified, and I would ask the court to consider a recommendation to one of those facilities.”

Judge Williams said he was considering a recommendation to send Mr. Schwab to the Plymouth County house of correction. Mr. Schwab moved to Middleton shortly after his arrest, according to court testimony.

“I’m already part way down that path,” Judge Williams said. “I don’t see why he should be incarcerated on Martha’s Vineyard, since he doesn’t live here any more.”

Mr. Kelliher argued forcefully against an off-Island assignment.

“This is a man who’s never been in jail, never been in trouble,” Mr. Kelliher said. “He’s 65 years old. Especially with these sex crimes, your honor, he would be the victim of many, many, many other assaults. I’m asking that he do his time here in Dukes County, where I believe he will be treated fairly. He’ll still be punished, but it wouldn’t be by other inmates. The inmates in Walpole, the inmates in Bridgewater, they have nothing to lose by attacking him. The inmates in Dukes County have a lot to lose if they attack him. If they do attack Mr. Schwab, they’re going to be sent off Island to another jail.”

Judge Williams decided not to recommend an off-Island sentence and accepted the four guilty pleas.

“I find that your guilty pleas are made voluntarily and intelligently, with knowledge of their consequences, and I do accept them,” Judge Williams said.

Well known in community

Mr. Schwab was active in civic affairs. He was a vice-president of Martha’s Vineyard Insurance Agency and a well-known Island businessman with a history of community work at the time of his arrest.

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 was a member of the Chilmark human resources board.

Mr. Schwab was also a school volunteer at the Edgartown School where he participated in the school’s enrichment program for several years and worked with students interested in rocketry.

Following an investigation by several law enforcement agencies, Chilmark Police arrested Mr. Schwab on April 18, 2012, 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.

According to police reports filed in district court at the time of his arrest, 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 seven years old when these activities began, according to the police reports.

The arrest came more than four years after the prosecutor alleged he began molesting the young victim, who was in his care at the time. Mr. Schwab relied on promises of secrecy from his victim to conceal his behavior, according to police reports.

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.

Massachusetts law requires mandated reporters to immediately make an oral or a 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.”

Following the court session Friday, Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi told The Times it is his understanding that Mr. Schwab, his wife, the victim, and others sought therapy soon after his family discovered his assaults, and long before his arrest. Chief Cioffi said he will investigate whether any therapists failed to report the assaults, as they were required by law to do.

“This investigation is still open,” Chief Cioffi said. “I intend to investigate the counselors, to see whether charges are appropriate.”

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Schwab, a Chilmark registered voter, was living on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in Tisbury.

On September 28, 2012, Mr. Schwab appeared before Judge Williams prepared to plead guilty to charges of indecent assault on a child under 14, assault, and lewdness.

Ms. Marshard recommended that Mr. Schwab serve 18 months in an off-Island house of correction, followed by five years of probation, with conditions that included registration as a sex offender.

Ms. Marshard asked that Mr. Schwab be imprisoned on the mainland rather than at the Dukes County House of Correction in Edgartown, at the request of the victim’s family.

Defense attorney Charles Morano recommended three years of probation, with similar conditions and no incarceration.

But, when Judge Williams rejected a plea offer that included no jail time, saying instead that he would find a one-year jail sentence acceptable, Mr. Schwab withdrew his offer to plead guilty.

Judge Williams scheduled a trial to begin on December 10. That was delayed when Mr. Schwab retained a new attorney, and the trial was scheduled to begin on February 8.