A 41-year-old man who police say arranged to meet a minor for sex at the Butte Civic Center parking lot last week has been charged with attempted rape and sexual abuse.
Steven Paul Schlepp was formally charged with attempted sexual intercourse without consent and sexual abuse of children, both felonies, at his initial appearance late Thursday afternoon before Butte justice court Judge Ben Pezdark.
According to police reports, the Butte man allegedly left a note in the men’s public restroom at the Butte Plaza Mall soliciting sexual acts. A telephone number was included in the note.
Butte-Silver Bow Undersheriff George Skuletich said a detective with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force made contact with Schlepp after police were alerted by a mall employee June 20.
While the note left in the restroom made no mention of the desired age of a sexual partner, the detective posing as a 14-year-old boy made it clear to Schlepp that he was “under the age of consent,” the undersheriff said.
Communicating mainly via text messages, Schlepp allegedly set up a day and time to meet the minor.
“He was the one that made the arrangements,” Skuletich said, adding that the “predator” agreed to bring sex-related items to the liaison Wednesday at the civic center parking lot. Schlepp was taken into police custody and initially held on a 48-hour investigative hold until he was booked Thursday.
"He had every opportunity to say, 'no, I'm not interested,'" Skuletich said.
County prosecutors allege in a complaint that Schlepp brought a condom and latex gloves to the meeting, evidence showing he had “purpose to commit the crime.”
Alana Ferko, Butte Plaza Mall operations manager, said she read Schlepp’s note in the presence of a female security officer, after it was found by an employee on the janitorial staff.
“It was embarrassing and upsetting. I said to her, ‘I’m calling the police,’” Ferko said Friday.
The mall’s public restrooms are cleaned hourly. Ferko said the note was initially given to a security officer on duty, who placed it in a sealed envelope. It was unclear how long the note may have been in the men’s bathroom.
The mother of two adult children, Ferko immediately knew the serious nature of the note’s contents, saying “it made me sick to my stomach.” She did not divulge the message written in the note.
Ferko expressed concern that a Butte business with public restrooms used by young children could possibly be used for a “disturbing” solicitation. It was the first incident of its kind at the mall, she said.
Ferko credited Butte police with their quick response and for not making her feel like she overreacted.
“I’m so grateful to the police department for their investigation. Kudos to them. This is the world we all live in,” she said.
Schlepp was being held on $40,000 bond at the county jail. A preliminary hearing was slated for Aug. 4.