Steve Schwab withdraws plea, will be tried for child molestation

Steve Myrick

Updated 10:30 am, Tuesday

Steven A. Schwab, 65, formerly of Chilmark and a well-known businessman and community figure, appeared before presiding Justice H. Gregory Williams in Edgartown District Court on Friday, September 28, ostensibly prepared to plead guilty to charges of indecent assault on a child under 14, assault, and lewdness.

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 ordered a trial to begin on December 10.

According to police reports cited by the prosecutor in court, Mr. Schwab repeatedly exposed himself to a juvenile girl over a period of about a year and a half, from July 2007 to November 2008. He kissed her inappropriately, and told her she would get in trouble if she told anyone, according to the report. The girl was seven years old when these activities began, according to the police reports.

Mr. Schwab admitted to all of the crimes in a lengthy plea proceeding September 28.

Cape & Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marshard and defense attorney Charles Morano submitted what is known in court parlance as an “unagreed plea.”

In the case of an unagreed plea, the judge may decide to accept the recommendation of the prosecutor, accept an offer from the defendant, or offer a modification of either.

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. Mr. Morano recommended three years of probation, with similar conditions and no incarceration.

As the plea process unfolded, Mr. Schwab listened to the prosecutor outline the evidence she would present if the case went to trial. She described in detail the molestation of the young victim. She also said that Mr. Schwab told police he had visited prostitutes and traveled to foreign countries that included Thailand, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, for sexual gratification with children.

Had the case gone to trial, Ms. Marshard said the Commonwealth would have presented photos of the victim, taken by Mr. Schwab, that showed a preoccupation and obsession with the young girl.

As part of any plea, a defendant is asked if the prosecutor’s description of the crimes are essentially true. “Is that pretty much what happened?” Judge Williams asked.

“The descriptions are exaggerated, but everything happened as was said,” Mr. Schwab told the court.

Judge Williams pressed him to explain what parts of the prosecutor’s description were exaggerated. There was a long pause.

“I can’t respond,” Mr. Schwab said. “The whole recitation caught me by surprise. I wasn’t prepared.”

“You weren’t prepared?” Judge Williams asked.

“No, I wasn’t,” Mr. Schwab answered.

“You want to step this back a few minutes and get prepared?” Judge Williams asked.

The two lawyers sparred over the description of Mr. Schwab’s foreign travels and their purpose. Mr. Morano objected to facts that he said were irrelevant to the charges before the court. Ms. Marshard said it was information she would present if the case went to trial.

Judge Williams put an end to the arguments and repeated a question he had asked Mr. Schwab earlier in the proceeding.

“You are pleading guilty to these offenses because you are guilty and for no other reason?” Judge Williams said.

“Yes,” Mr. Schwab answered.

Impact statement

The victim and her mother were present in the court room. The girl’s mother read an impact statement.

“He [Schwab] was such a good guy,” the mother told the judge. “I guess this is just a betrayal that happened, not only to me and [the victim] but to his wife and two sons. I think he should be registered as a sex offender, because he was. I think jail time is warranted.”

The victim’s mother said she was happy and grateful she could leave her daughter at Mr. Schwab’s home because she was recovering from cancer, and working night shifts as a nurse.

“I’m just sorry it all happened, that so many lives were affected,” she said.

The two attorneys offered arguments in support of their sentencing recommendations. Ms. Marshard asked the judge to order Mr. Schwab to serve one and a half years in jail.

“It’s clear he’s well thought of and was once a respected member of the community. But it’s equally clear,” Ms. Marshard told the court, “he took advantage of that little girl not once, but over and over again. While he’s getting treatment, there also has to be a message. Yes, you can accept responsibility, yes, you can work to correct the problem. But there will be a punishment and a deterrent for such behavior in our community. This is not something that just gets you a ‘get out of jail card’ because you’re getting treatment.”

Mr. Morano submitted letters of support for Mr. Schwab from Island residents, and argued a jail sentence would serve no purpose.

“I’m not minimizing the impact on the young lady, and her family,” Mr. Morano told the court. “But there has been a huge impact on him. This man has been punished a lot already.

“This is an illness he has, a sickness, a mental disease. Thirty-five or forty years of upstanding citizenry down the drain. He’s ostracized from the community. He has to leave the Island, leave his job, his wife files for divorce. He’s lost everything. Jail is superfluous in this case, it would do no good. He’s been punished as much as anyone could be punished.”

Judge Williams rejected the terms of Mr. Schwab’s proffered plea. He proposed a revision of the Commonwealth’s recommendation of 18 months of incarceration down to one year, followed by five years of probation with strict conditions.

Court officers immediately began to take Mr. Schwab into custody, placing handcuffs on one wrist before Judge Williams ordered them to stop.

Unwilling to accept a one-year jail sentence, Mr. Schwab exercised his right to withdraw his plea and go to trial.

Confrontation led to arrest

Under the terms of the plea agreement process, none of Mr. Schwab’s admissions in court Friday may be used against him at his upcoming trial.

Once outside of court, Mr. Schwab and Mr. Morano declined to comment to The Times.

Mr. Schwab was arrested on April 18, 2012, more than four years after the prosecutor alleged he began molesting the young victim. 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.

Mr. Schwab was arraigned in Edgartown District Court on 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 included no contact with any children under the age of 16.

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