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Defiant Lorenzo gets 200 years

 
Published Jan. 28, 2006

Cruel. Hideous. Despicable.

None of those words were bad enough to describe the handiwork of Steven Lorenzo, a federal judge said Friday before sentencing Lorenzo to 200 years in federal prison.

Lorenzo, 46, was convicted Nov. 10 of drugging nine men, including two who died, with the date-rape drug GHB in order to commit violence. He also was found guilty of conspiring with an accomplice to distribute GHB.

Seven men described sadistic torture at his hands. Investigators say he has been implicated but not charged in the deaths of two others.

The sentence clearly was not just about the drugs.

"He created a veritable chamber of horrors in his home in Seminole Heights," said U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara.

In sentencing Lorenzo, the judge recalled pictures of beaten men, bound and naked, that were shown at Lorenzo's November trial. He remembered the words of the victims who said Lorenzo drugged and assaulted them. He thought about two of Lorenzo's suspected victims - Michael Wachholtz and Jason Galehouse, both 26 - who did not live to testify.

Both men disappeared the weekend of Dec. 19, 2003. Wachholtz's decomposed body was found two weeks later. Galehouse's body was never found, but investigators removed a section of Lorenzo's garage floor that was covered in blood later identified as the missing man's.

Scott Schweickert, the Illinois man accused of helping Lorenzo drug them, later described to investigators the way Galehouse's body was dismembered. Neither Schweickert nor Lorenzo have been charged with murder.

Schweickert's charges include conspiracy and assisting in a drug-facilitated crime of violence against Wachholtz and Galehouse. His federal trial begins Feb. 6.

Murder, sexual battery and kidnapping were all factors Lazzara used in determining Lorenzo's penalty. Lorenzo's attorney, Donald Harrison, argued that Lorenzo had not been tried on any of those accusations, but the judge said he was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Lorenzo was responsible for their deaths.

Albert Perkins, one of Lorenzo's victims who agreed to identify himself, looked Lorenzo in the eye when he made a statement at the sentencing.

"I hope each time you wake up to face a new day, you will hear the screams of your victims," Perkins said.

Ruth Wachholtz, 50, wore a button with her son's face on it. Some days she still expects to pick up the phone and hear, "Hey, mom, what's up? Whatcha doin'?"

"I keep waiting for a call from him," she said, through tears. "I know I'm never going to hear from him again."

Stephen Wachholtz, 27, didn't cry in front of Lorenzo. He stared at him and spoke.

"Dude, you took my brother from me. That was a big mistake," he said. "I wish you the worst in prison. The worst."

Lorenzo leaned back in his chair and smirked. He snickered throughout the sentencing.

Stephen Wachholtz stormed out of the courtroom.

When Lazzara asked Lorenzo if he wanted to make a statement, Lorenzo responded, "I have a lot of things to say, but it's not the time to say it. I'll get my chance some day."

"Some day?" Lazzara asked. "Enigmatic to the end."

Lazzara commended everyone involved in the case, from special agents to Tampa police to attorneys and the jury.

But to Lorenzo, he said, "With the smirk on your face, you deserve no commendation. All you merit is society's utter condemnation and contempt for the despicable acts. . . . you perpetrated on these victims."

Lazzara said nothing in his 35-year legal career could have prepared him for the evidence and testimony presented at the trial. He was "shellshocked" by the gruesome images and said he felt bad that the jury had to suffer through it. He called Lorenzo a "psychopathic predator," and raised his voice several times, frustrated by the defendant's defiant smile.

"The defendant has shown and continues to show even now absolutely no remorse, no regret for his criminal conduct," Lazzara said.

After the 200-year sentence was delivered, and Lorenzo was ordered to pay the Wachholtz family $4,210 to cover Michael's funeral expenses, Harrison said Lorenzo planned to appeal the judge's sentence.

"It was no surprise to us," Harrison later said of the maximum sentence. When asked about his client's smirking, Harrison chalked it up to nerves and helplessness.

"What does he have to lose?" Harrison said.

Perkins, the victim who spoke, was satisfied with the verdict but disappointed by Lorenzo's reaction.

"I was hoping to see him scared and afraid," Perkins said. "When I saw that smirk on his face, it upset me."

Ruth Wachholtz hopes the sentence marks a steppingstone for the state to file murder charges. Harrison said the state's case is weak. And Lazzara made his sentiments clear in court.

"I would hope that he never sees the light of day again," Lazzara said.Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813-226-3354 or at azayassptimes.com.