April 3, 2002

Schwarz Pleads Innocent to New Charges

By Ron Howell, Tony DeStefano and Pete Bowles Staff Writers

(Newsday Photo /Alan Raia)
  Ex-NYPD officer Charles Schwarz and his wife Andra after his arraignment in Brooklyn on a new perjury charge in the Abner Louima torture case.

Former patrolman Charles Schwarz, whose two convictions in the 1997 bathroom torture of Abner Louima were recently overturned, pleaded innocent Wednesday to new charges that he lied when he testified that he had no role in the attack.

After entering the plea in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Schwarz said he would not accept any kind of deal with prosecutors even if it allowed him no more prison time.

“This case has consumed five years of my life, and I have been saying from day one I’m innocent,” he told reporters. “I intend to fight this through. I was not in that bathroom. Nothing the government says or does is going to change that fact.”

Schwarz, 36, who served 33 months in prison after having been convicted twice in the torture case, was charged with two counts of perjury last week after an appeals court threw out the convictions and ordered a new civil rights trial.

He is free on $1 million bond.

Prosecutors, in court papers filed Wednesday, said Schwarz should be tried on the perjury counts at the same time as the civil rights charges because the new allegations “are related to the same acts and substantially require the same proof.”

U.S. District Court Judge Reena Raggi made no ruling on the application and set a hearing for April 12.

The new charges allege that Schwarz lied to a jury when he took the stand in his own defense on Feb. 23, 2000, and said he did not escort Louima to the bathroom in the 70th Precinct station house and that he was not present during the attack.

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’ role in the attack.

He was accused of holding Louima while Justin Volpe sodomized the Haitian immigrant with a broken broom handle.

Volpe, who is serving a 30-year sentence after having pleaded guilty to torturing Louima, testified at Schwarz’ second trial that Schwarz was not in the bathroom. But the jury rejected the version of events offered by Schwarz and Volpe.

Schwarz’ attorney, Ronald Fischetti, called the perjury case “nothing more than a malicious prosecution” and said it should be thrown out.

He accused prosecutors of bringing the perjury charges to intimidate potential witnesses. “It is a warning that anyone who takes the witness stand and says Charles Schwarz is innocent will be indicted for perjury,” Fishchetti said.

Schwarz, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison on the earlier convictions, faces up to 5 years’ imprisonment if convicted of perjury.

In its ruling last month, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals oveturned the obstruction convictions of Schwarz, Brider and Wiese. Prosecutors have indicated that they may bring new charges against Bruder and Wiese.

In another development Wednesday, the Second Circuit ordered a hearing in the case of former police officer Francisco Rosario, who was sentenced to three years’ probation last year after being convicted of lying to investigators about Louima’s torture.

Rosario maintains that he admitted concocting a story about the incident after a federal prosecutor told him he would not be prosecuted if he told the truth.

The appeals court said a hearing should be held to determine if Rosario was given immunity and whether he should have been tried. The U.S. Attorney’s office, in a statement, said Rosario had not been granted immunity.

Charles Schwarz vehemently denied his guilt in the Abner Louima sodomy case once again this morning as he faced new perjury charges in federal court in Brooklyn.

Schwarz, who already faces a retrial for his alleged role in the brutal attack, was indicted last week on two additional counts of perjury.

In a brief court appearance, the former patrolman pleaded innocent to charges that he committed perjury when he testified at a February 2000 federal conspiracy trial that he did not lead Louima to the bathroom on Aug. 9, 1997, and that he did not restrain the Haitian immigrant as Justin Volpe sodomized him with a broken broom handle.

Afterward, Schwarz said he would not accept a plea bargain even with a sentence for time served because he is not guilty of a crime.

"This case has consumed five years of my life and I've been saing from day one I'm innocent. I intend to fight this through," Schwarz said.

"I was not in that bathroom. I've been saying that since the beginning and nothing the government says or does in going to chance that fact ... I plan on being vindicated."

Schwarz' attorney, Ronald Fischetti agreed that the accused man could not plead guilty.

"There are no pleas in this case. An innocent man doesn't plead guiilty. He can't plead to something he didn't do ... (Schwarz) would rather go back in and do the rest of the time than ever say he did something that he didn't do," Fischetti said.

Fischetti accused prosecutors of trying to save face after the reversal of the earlier convictions.

"These are charges that have been brought simply becuause Charles Schwarz's case was overturned," Fischetti said.

He said prosecutors are also trying to intimidate possible witnesses.

"What it is is a warning that ... anyone who take the witness stand and says Charles Schwarz is innocent will be indicted for perjury. That includes Tommy Wiese, Tommy Bruder, Justin Volpe and any other witnesses we would have intended to call," Fischetti said.

Last month, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Schwarz’s conviction and those of Wiese and Bruder.

The court ordered that Schwarz be retried on civil rights charges related to his role in the torture of Louima. Schwarz had been serving his 15-year sentence in an Oklahoma prison but is now free on $1 million bail.

In its ruling, the three-judge panel said that Schwarz’s first lawyer did not defend him adequately and that the jury was tainted by news reports when it convicted him of violating Louima’s civil rights by holding him down during the assault.

In addition, the court said there was insufficient evidence to sustain obstruction-of-justice convictions of Schwarz and former officers Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder. The court found that while the officers may have misled investigators, there was insufficient evidence to support the broad obstruction charge.

The appeals court entered a judgment of acquittal for all three officers on the obstruction charges. Wiese and Bruder had been given five-year prison sentences but were free on bail during their appeal.

The new perjury charges against the former cop each carry a maximum term of up to five years imprisonment upon conviction.

Fischetti argued that the charges should be thrown out and said he will fight their consolidation.

"What they want to do is to put before the jury that he was indicted for perjury two years later," he said.

U.S. District Judge Reena Raggi made no ruling. She set another hearing for April 12.

Meanwhile, Louima's attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, said the victim is prepared to take the stand again.

"Mr. Louima is prepared to testify, with regard to one trial, two trials. He is prepared to testify whether it is one trial or two trials," he said.

Few protesters turned out for the proceedings. Among them were two regulars who yelled "PBA, KKK!" and "Justice for Louima!"

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry of the Brooklyn-based House of the Lord Pentecostal Church, the lone black leader present, said people were caught off-guard by the hearing. However, he said, they are still upset by the sexual assault despite the passage of four years.

"There's going to be a real crowd I guess when the trial starts," Daughtry said, referring to groups of protesters. "I think this kind of snuck up on people. I don't think today is an accurate indication," he said referring to any perceived lack of interest or energy in protesting against the former police officers.

Schwarz supporter and former Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari said civil liberties organizations should be outraged by the perjury charges.

"I was stunned by the methods that (U.S. Attorney Alan) Vinegrad received an indictment on the perjury charge. I'm waiting for the civil liberties union to step forward and say this is wrong. The message that he is giving out here is a very bad message," he said.

"We were hoping more cops would come forward that might have been there that morning, that could prove that Chuck was innocent. We were hopeful ...But in light of this indictment, it's doubtful anyone would have the nerve to come forward and testify."

However, Daughtry said Molinari had asked him about holding to a meeting to discuss maintaining peace in the city as the case moves forward.

"If he calls me and says, 'Hey, Rev., do you want to sit down and talk peace and how to bring people together?' I'm not going to say no," Daughtry said.

Patricia Hurtado contributed to this story.