Belmont man’s alleged victim only told story after plea bargain on theft charge
By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A local jury will have to decide whether a longtime Belmont businessman sexually assaulted a girl from the time she turned 13 until she was 17 nearly two decades ago or whether she fabricated the assaults to avoid going to jail for stealing from him in 2014.
According to the opening argument by Assistant Strafford County Attorney Alysia Cassotis and testimony given Monday by the alleged victim in Belknap County Superior Court, Steven Price, 66, of Laconia was a friend of the alleged victim's father and helped her and her family financially during the time she was a young teen. Price owns Lakes Region Fiberglass and the woman is now 34.
Price's attorney James Moir said in his opening argument that the woman made up the sexual assault charges against Price because she stole $30,000 in jewelry from him and his wife in 2014 and waited until the day she was scheduled to plead guilty to tell her attorney that Price had repeatedly sexually assaulted her as a child.
The alleged victim testified first on Monday and said that when she was about 12, she began to grow very fond of Price, who took her fishing and spent time with her, unlike her own father, who was an alcoholic. She said he was also like a father to her younger brother.
"We got along very well," said said, telling the jury that they both grew up poor and had a lot in common.
The victim told the jury she fell in love with him, and he began kissing and fondling her when she was about 12. She said the first time they had sexual intercourse was when she was "about 13," when they were in a cemetery off South Road after they had been riding around in his Red Dodge pickup. She said he told her that when she was 18, or "old enough," he would leave his wife and marry her.
She said the relationship continued with sex of all kinds on a regular basis until she was 17 and she moved eventually to Florida.
"I was in love with him," she testified repeatedly through her tears, adding that she would always love him.
The woman testified that Price continued to help her even after she eventually moved to Florida, married, and had two children. She said he would pay to fly her and her children to New Hampshire around her birthday and that they would occasionally have sex.
She also testified that once, when she was still a minor, one of Price's employees caught them having sex on his business property and reported it to the police. She said on three occasions officers from the Belmont Police Department came to speak with her and that all three times she had called Price and let him know the police were planning on talking to her.
The alleged victim also testified that by 2014, she was living in Bristol and was addicted to pain killers. She said she needed money to pay the rent and went to Price for help.
She said he told her he was having his own financial problems and he was unable to help her.
According to her, he opened the office safe and said, "Do what you need to do," and left the room. She testified she took some jewelry and old coins.
Under cross examination from Price's attorney, Jim Moir, she admitted that she pawned $30,000 worth of jewelry and old coins for about $1,000 and paid her rent. She said she likely bought some drugs with the money but held firm that most of it went toward the rent.
During his opening arguments, Moir said she was arrested for theft when Price's wife reported the missing items to the Belmont Police. She was arrested and indicted with a felony charge of theft.
During the time leading up to her agreement to plead guilty, she was represented by attorney John Bresaw of the New Hampshire Public Defender's Office. She testified Monday that Price kept telling her that he would take care of it.
When the day came for her to enter her guilty plea in court and be sentenced to jail for the theft, she said she told Bresaw the story about the sexual assaults.
Bresaw, according to opening statements, went to Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen who postponed the woman's plea bargain and began an investigation into Price about the woman's sexual assault allegations. Because of her role as investigator and potential witness, Guldbrandsen and her office were prohibited from prosecuting the case.
Eventually, Guldbrandsen and the Cassotis granted full immunity to the woman for the theft charges and brought charges against Price for "pattern" aggravated felonious sexual assault, meaning there was a pattern of abuse that lasted from the time she was 13 until she turned 17 and became a legal adult.
Trial continues Wednesday afternoon.