March 26, 2002

Perjury Charges

Schwarz indicted in Louima case

By Patricia Hurtado STAFF WRITER; Staff writer Bobby Cuza contributed to this story.

A federal grand jury in Brooklyn indicted Charles Schwarz yesterday on perjury charges for allegedly lying when he testified that he played no role in the torture of Abner Louima.

The indictment signals that federal prosecutors are not giving up on their case against Schwarz, whose two convictions in the Aug. 9, 1997, attack on Louima were thrown out on appeal.

Schwarz, who was freed on $1 million bail earlier this month, will face two counts of perjury, prosecutors said. He declined to comment on the new charges yesterday.

Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad, who prosecuted Schwarz in the earlier cases, said earlier this month that he was prepared to retry Schwarz, and U.S. District Court Judge Reena Raggi has set a June 24 trial date.

Schwarz will be arraigned on the new charges on April 3, said William Muller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office. Each of the perjury charges carries a maximum term of up to 5 years imprisonment upon conviction.

In a statement released yesterday, Vinegrad continued the government's assertion that the so-called "Blue Wall of Silence" kept officers from telling the truth about the attack, one of the worst incidents of police brutality in city history.

"Many acts of obstruction and lying have permeated this case from the beginning," Vinegrad said yesterday. "This defendant, having taken an oath that he would testify truthfully, took the witness stand at a federal criminal trial and repeatedly lied about the circumstances surrounding the sexual assault of Abner Louima."

Vinegrad has said no decision has been made on whether he would appeal the appeals court decision that threw out Schwarz's convictions on violating Louima's civil rights and conspiring to obstruct justice. The prosecutor has until April 15 to appeal.

It was unclear yesterday whether these latest charges would be added to that case or be handled in a separate trial.

Schwarz's lawyer, Ronald Fischetti, did not return calls for comment. Schwarz, reached at his mother's Staten Island home, declined to comment last night.

In yesterday's indictment, Schwarz, 36, was charged with twice lying to a jury when he took the stand in his own defense on Feb. 23, 2000. Schwarz was charged at that trial with conspiring with fellow officers, Thomas Bruder and Thomas Wiese, to lie to investigators in an effort to cover up Schwarz's role in the bathroom attack. Schwarz was accused of allegedly holding Louima while Justin Volpe sodomized the Haitian immigrant with a broken broom handle.

At the second trial, Fischetti argued that Schwarz played no role in the attack and therefore could not be guilty of conspiracy.

Yesterday's indictment stemmed from Schwarz's answers to Fischetti's questions, specifically that he did not escort Louima to the bathroom in the 70th Precinct station house and that he was not present during the attack.

It is unclear how prosecutors intend to prove the latest charges, but a review of the evidence shows that at least four witnesses contradicted Schwarz and testified that they saw Louima in his custody inside the precinct.

While Louima was never able to identify Schwarz as the officer who restrained him, two officers, Eric Turetzky and Mark Schofield, testified that they saw Schwarz lead a handcuffed Louima toward the rear of the precinct shortly before the attack. Sgt. Jeffrey Fallon also testified that Schwarz had control of Louima.

Volpe, who is serving a 30-year sentence after having pleaded guilty to torturing Louima, testified at Schwarz's second trial that Schwarz was not in the bathroom.

The jury rejected the version of events offered by Schwarz and Volpe. The three-judge panel that overturned Schwarz's conviction also expressed doubts about his story, saying there was evidence Schwarz, Bruder and Wiese lied to investigators.

Louima's lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said yesterday that his client was prepared to testify against Schwarz.

"This is an indictment for lying at a trial about crucial facts, one, who escorted Abner to the bathroom and who was with Volpe at the time of the attack," Rubenstein said.

"These charges go to the essence of where Schwarz said he was and what he did - whether he was telling the truth at that second trial. A jury heard that account and still convicted him."

Staff writer Bobby Cuza contributed to this story.

Feds: How He Lied

The testimony cited by federal prosecutors in charging Charles Schwarz with perjury at the 2000 trial at which he and fellow officers Thomas Bruder and Thomas Wiese were accused of conspiring to obsturct justice in the investigation of the police torture of Abner Louima.

Ron Fischetti, Schwarz lawyer:

Laying aside how you would escort a prisoner, let me ask you this, did you ever escort Abner Louima from the front desk of the 70th Precinct where it says main desk around the desk area toward the cells and make a right turn toward the bathroom.

Schwarz: No.

Fischetti: Did you ever escort him from the desk toward the table?

Schwarz: No.

Fischetti: Did you take him anywhere away from the desk?

Schwarz: No...

Fischetti: Were you ever in the bathroom with him (Louima)?

Schwarz: Absolutely not.