A former deputy with the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department who two years ago was shot at while pursuing fugitive David Burgert in the mountains west of Missoula pleaded guilty Tuesday to having and soliciting sexual relations with a teenage boy.
Larry Schwindt was fired from the department in January during an investigation into a complaint that he had engaged in an inappropriate and possibly unlawful relationship with a 17-year-old minor.
Schwindt’s plea Tuesday in Missoula Justice Court before John Odlin was based on events that led up to and ensued from a sexual encounter he had with a 17-year-old male in a parking lot in Alberton in the spring of 2012, according to court records.
Schwindt pleaded guilty to one count of official misconduct and one count of attempted unlawful transactions with children, first offense. Both are misdemeanors.
A third charge of high misdemeanor prostitution was dismissed. It was based on Schwindt’s admitted use of a digital alter ego on Craigslist, “Sarah Richardson,” to initially engage the boy.
Schwindt received a six-month suspended sentence along with fines and surcharges totaling $1,170 for the two misdemeanors. Odlin ordered him to surrender his Police Officer Standards and Training certification and to not seek employment as a law enforcement or detention officer. He was further told to have no contact with anyone under the age of 18 without approval of a court-appointed representative.
The state’s complaint, lodged by Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, said Schwindt admitted to many of the details that the teen identified as “John Doe” told Capt. Josh Clark and detective David Conway in a Jan. 8 interview.
Doe’s parents met with Clark the day before and told him of the relationship. They provided a computer with Facebook conversations that “detailed the specifics of the physical relationship between Schwindt and Doe,” the affidavit said.
“The conversations … predominantly revolved around Schwindt attempting to persuade Doe to have another sexual encounter. Schwindt went on to promise to provide Doe with alcohol for compensation of sexual intercourse.”
Doe told Clark and Conway he developed a text and e-mail relationship with Schwindt through the Craigslist personal post by “Sarah.”
“Eventually, Sarah impliedly promised Doe that she would meet him for a sexual encounter if he would first meet Larry Schwindt for a sexual encounter,” the records stated.
The boy never met “Sarah,” and Schwindt admitted to investigators he had created her to engage Doe. Eventually, Schwindt and the boy met on a spring night at “approximately midnight” in the parking lot of the Valley Grocery store in Alberton. They engaged in a sexual act in Schwindt’s Dodge Durango.
Doe told detectives he forgot his sweatshirt that night and the two arranged to meet a couple days later at the Orange Street exit on Interstate 90 in Missoula to return it. Schwindt was driving a marked patrol vehicle from the sheriff’s office and wore his deputy’s uniform for the meeting. Doe said he had not known until then that Schwindt was a Missoula County sheriff’s deputy.
Schwindt’s subsequent attempts via Facebook to arrange another rendezvous were declined, even when the deputy offered to provide the underage male with beer in exchange for sex. Schwindt identified himself in the posts as “your Cop buddy,” the affidavit said, and his profile photo that showed up each time he sent Doe a message displayed Schwindt in uniform standing alongside other law enforcement officers.
Schwindt, who was 30 when charges were first brought to light in January, had been with the department approximately two years at the time.
He was with another sheriff’s deputy on June 12, 2011, when they engaged in a chase of Burgert, a former militia leader, up Lolo Creek and Graves Creek. Burgert disappeared into the mountains on foot, but not before exchanging shots with the deputies. He’s not been seen since.
Later that year, the two deputies were featured in the opening segment of the 2011 season premiere of “America’s Most Wanted.” Schwindt received an Armed Action Medal from the Missoula sheriff’s department last spring.