MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — A Harvard law grad who got a jail-free plea deal after admitting he drunkenly set fire to an East Side chapel holding the remains of 9/11 victims cannot come up with the money for restitution to the city and may now go to prison or face a trial, a judge said Monday.
Brian Schroeder, 28, agreed to pay restitution as part of his plea deal, but his attorney, Alan Lewis, has since informed the court that he cannot pay any of it because the money he was expecting to borrow from his parents is no longer available.
"Mr. Schroeder's mother had a stroke. His parents have major medical bills and that makes it even more difficult," his attorney Alan Lewis said in court on Monday.
When Schroeder pleaded guilty, he promised to repay the city in an amount yet to be determined. The original estimate of what he would owe the city was $25,000 to $30,000. Since then, prosecutors have reevaluated the damages and informed him the new amount was actually $180,000 — a large chunk of which was money the city spent on 24 hour security after his break in.
Schroeder was heavily intoxicated when he set the blaze inside the East 30th Street and FDR Drive chapel in the early morning hours of Oct. 31, 2009. He was about to start a job at the prestigious Sidley Austin law firm, an offer that was rescinded after his arrest.
"I thought I was dreaming," he told investigators about the experience.
Schroeder pleaded guilty on Nov. 3, 2010 to arson, burglary, criminal mischief and cemetery desecration, and Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Rena Uviller said at the time that sending Schroeder to jail was not the answer.
Instead, he struck a deal that included restitution in an amount that was to be determined. He also agreed to attend alcohol abuse counseling. Schroeder has been attending the counseling for a year and a half, and was approved Monday to begin attending the counseling once a month instead of once a week.
After presiding over the Deutsche Bank building fire trial for months, Judge Uviller returned to Schroeder's case to learn of the restitution issues and was not happy with the stalemate.
"I am very concerned about his case. I'm just getting a very uncomfortable feeling about the way this is progressing, or not," Uviller said.
The judge gave Schroeder the option of rescinding his felony guilty plea and going to trial, going to jail on the guilty plea or agreeing to come up with $50,000 by Sept. 21.
If he fails to meet those terms, he could go to prison for a maximum sentence of 2 1/3 to seven years.
Schroeder, through Lewis, agreed to try to come up with the money by then and indicated he did not want to withdraw his plea.
Assistant District Attorney Lucy Lang opposed the judge's settlement on the restitution amount.
"The New York City tax payers are out $180,000 as a result of the damage here," Lang said.
The fire at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's temporary shelter did not affect the victim remains that were salvaged from Ground Zero and kept there, but photographs and other mementos left by grieving family members were damaged or destroyed.
The chapel was built by the OCME to serve as a temporary resting place for unidentified victims.