MACHIAS, Maine — Three days of testimony wrapped up Wednesday in the civil trial against a Cherryfield businessman accused of sexually abusing a young girl years ago.
Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald Alexander said he would take some time to review all of the evidence and accompanying documents before issuing a ruling in “due course.”
A 28-year-old Washington County woman filed the civil lawsuit against Steven Pagels in 2012. The woman, who is not being identified by the Bangor Daily News because she may be a victim of sexual assault, said she was molested and sexually assaulted by Pagels for a period of about nine years beginning when she was about 7. The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages for his “willful, wanton and malicious” actions against the plaintiff, plus interest and legal costs.
Pagels has denied the allegations. He has not been charged with any crimes.
A different judge previously allowed liens to be placed on Pagels’ property to prevent him from selling or concealing assets before the case could be resolved. In his order, Calais District Court Judge John Romei noted it is “more likely than not, that in this action the plaintiff will recover judgment,” including interest and costs, of no less than $5 million.
Pagels operates Downeast Windjammer Cruises and affiliated businesses. They provide cruises, excursions, fishing trips and charter and ferry service on a number of vessels sailing or steaming from Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Eastport.
During closing arguments in the non-jury trial on Wednesday, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Rebecca Irving of Machias, drew a timeline on a chalkboard with years and names of the plaintiff and three other women who have been referred to during the trial as childhood victims of Pagels. They testified or gave depositions alleging sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape and attempted rape, noted Irving.
Pagels, who listened impassively to the closing statements, “has no compunction about repeated … sexual abuse” toward minor females, argued Irving.
“He demonstrated a pattern of dominance and used fear and physical force with respect to that dominance,” said Irving. … “He’s a repeat offender, and he will offend again because there have been no consequences to any of his actions.”
Irving said it was the plaintiff “who had the courage to hold this man accountable for the first time in his life. It was (the plaintiff) … who said, I want to get better, and I need to hold (him) accountable.”
In arguing for damages, Irving did not ask for a specific amount. However, she said, “It needs to be substantial because if it’s not substantial, this man’s past pattern will continue.”
Ellsworth defense attorney Daniel Pileggi, while admitting that Pagels’ actions were “creepy” at times, argued there was no evidence that Pagels had committed sexual assaults.
The case against Pagels did not contain any physical evidence — or medical records pointing to it — of any injuries suffered by the plaintiff or other types of physical evidence, said Pileggi.
The plaintiff’s testimony was not credible, suggested Pileggi, because she admitted lying to obtain painkillers and she also gave statements years ago in which she accused Pagels of nothing more than having her perform a few back rubs.
“She exaggerates to get what she wants,” he said.
The plaintiff’s “train of allegations” did not begin to appear, said Pileggi, until she began seeing a therapist in 2012. “That’s what the plaintiff was building with [the therapist]. She was building a lawsuit.”
Pileggi acknowledged that his client’s behavior may have been inappropriate.
“Was he creepy in the past? Yup. Was he inappropriate in his past? Yup. But that’s not enough.”
Although he received back rubs from the plaintiff when she was a girl, Pagels was “not a violent, serial rapist … There is nothing to support that,” Pileggi said.
Irving said later Wednesday that she expects the judge to rule within about 10 days.