A Santa Barbara man remains behind bars and held on $2 million bail after a judge denied his attorney’s request Friday to lower the amount to $100,000. Prosecutors, who unsuccessfully argued bail should be increased to $5 million, claimed Richard Box is a flight risk and would likely skip town if he were released before trial. Four people attended the hearing in support of Box, and one took the stand to defend him.
The former realtor and current men’s choir singer is accused of repeatedly abusing and raping his wife over the last three years and molesting his 15-year-old stepdaughter, who authorities say was forced to live in a small closet under a stairwell in Box’s house and was being groomed as his sex slave. Officials stated that the women — both from Thailand, where Box reportedly owns property — have lived in fear of the defendant since recently arriving in the United States and moving into his Las Ondas home on the Mesa. A Santa Barbara High School alum and longtime South Coast resident, Box is known around town as a familiar face but — officials would corroborate — has developed a somewhat unsavory reputation over the years.
Earlier this month, police officers responded to the residence on a disturbance call and made contact with the victims. From there, detectives launched an investigation into Box and his reported crimes, and on December 16, Box surrendered himself to police. According to a felony complaint filed by Senior Deputy District Attorney Paula Waldman on December 18, Box faces 10 separate charges, including spousal rape, assault with intent to commit a lewd act upon a child, false imprisonment by violence, dissuading a witness by force or threat, assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, domestic violence battery, and electronic peeping. Box, represented by defense attorney Steve Balash, pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 15 years and four months in prison.
The hearing began with Waldman submitting two handwritten statements from the victims to Judge Barry Taylor. In the letters, and during interviews with detectives, the women expressed fear and worry over what would happen to them if Box were allowed to return home. Balash objected to the letters, calling them hearsay. Taylor reminded Balash that all information presented during such bail hearings is technically hearsay.
Waldman then called Detective Brian Larson to the stand. Larson, who works in the police department’s Crimes Against Persons Division, headed Box’s case and interviewed the victims. He described the 15-year-old as “shy, timid, and close-kept” and said her mother was similarly quiet and reserved. Larson explained that in the days following news reports of Box’s arrest, he fielded no fewer than 10 calls from area residents who testified that Box is known for his “disturbing behavior” and that he would be a flight risk if released from custody.
Larson said he also uncovered an October 2012 arrest report from Long Beach that alleged Box molested a 12-year-old girl living at an apartment complex he owned at the time. According to the report, Box fondled and exposed himself to the girl and asked her to perform sexual acts on him. Three of the girl’s siblings — two 5-year-olds and a one-year-old — were in the same room at the time, Larson said, explaining Box had some kind of agreement with their mother that he could use the apartment’s shower. In her complaint, Waldman detailed that Long Beach police found multiple photographs on Box’s cell phone that depicted “young girls’ clothed or partially clothed private parts … where it appears these photos were secretly taken without the girls’ consent.”
During his cross-examination, Balash noted that Box has not been convicted of any crimes as a result of that report, which the victim filed immediately after the incident. Waldman later stated that given the new accusations against Box, the 2012 case could very well move forward in the near future.
Larson also described a 2006 incident in which Box allegedly made a terrorist threat against an insurance agent. Box had recently been in a car accident, Larson said, and was on the phone with the agent when he became incensed, threatening to come to her office and kill her and others with a machine gun. The woman was sufficiently frightened that she contacted police, and her company hired armed guards for the office. Balash made it clear to Judge Taylor that no charges were ever filed in that incident.
Following Box’s arrest last week, Larson said police issued an Emergency Protective Order (EPO) against him on behalf of the victims. While Box was told that night he could collect some clothing, his medications, and his motor scooter, Larson said, he was verbally ordered to stay away from the home and the women. The next morning, neighbors reported seeing Box slowly drive by on his scooter, looking down the house’s driveway and into its windows. Larson would admit during cross-examination from Balash that police had mistakenly not marked a section on the EPO that stipulated Box stay away from the house, and conceded there was some confusion over whether Box was allowed to retrieve his scooter the night of his arrest or the next morning.
At this point, Balash called Box’s friend, Keith Lawler, to the witness stand. Lawler — a retired United Airlines pilot and Santa Barbara resident — said he has known Box for approximately 15 years. He said he would often give Box and other friends “companion passes” to Thailand at greatly reduced rates and that he was very familiar with the country after staying there a number of times on layovers. “It’s a great place to have a great time,” he said. Lawler said he met his wife there and that he was with Box when Box met his. Since then, Box has reportedly spent a number of months out of every year in Thailand’s Chiang Mai province.
Box eventually expressed an interest in bringing his soon-to-be bride back to the United States, so Lawler helped walk him through the visa process, explaining Box could obtain a “fiancée visa” that would allow them three months to get married before the visa expired. Before that could happen, however, Lawler said Box and the victim had an explosive fight. He claimed the victim destroyed many of Box’s belongings in the process and stole valuable watches and jewelry.
Waldman objected to this portion of Lawler’s testimony, calling it double-hearsay since Lawler was simply repeating what Box had told him, not what he witnessed first-hand. Lawler attempted to cut Waldman off with a raised voice, then speak over Judge Taylor when he tried to regain order, prompting Taylor to curtly admonish Lawler and order him to follow proper courtroom decorum.
Lawler said that after the fight he tried to convince Box to contact police, but Box declined, stating he was worried the victim — not yet a citizen — would find herself in serious trouble with the law. Around three to six months later in 2011, Lawler went on, Box reconnected with the woman and married her in Florida. Lawler said he advised against it. “She’s a very nice person, but very unstable,” he claimed. “It’s difficult to tell a friend not to marry somebody, but I’m a good judge of character.”
During her cross-examination, Waldman asked Lawler if he thought the charges against Box are true. “I have no idea,” he answered. She asked if it was possible they are true. “Anything is possible,” he replied. When Lawler repeatedly tried to interject his theories and opinions into their back-and-forths, Waldman advised him to simply answer her questions. And when Waldman proposed that Lawler really didn’t know the truth behind the charges, Lawler shot back, “No, neither do you.”
Lawler told Waldman he and Box played beach volleyball twice a week and would sometimes go on walks together. He said he hadn’t discussed Box’s allegations with him and has not visited him in jail. He repeatedly referred to Box’s wife as “unstable,” said her issues had hurt his and Box’s friendship, and said he had met the stepdaughter on only three occasions.
In her concluding remarks, Waldman said Box had established a pattern of criminal behavior and that he took special pleasure in preying on defenseless victims. She said it’s no surprise Box would present himself in a positive light to men like Lawler, as predators are commonly two-faced and manipulative. “The theme that has come up again, and again, and again is that the defendant has the mind-set of a pervert,” she said, explaining Box is unable to control his actions. In her argument for a bail increase from $2 million to $5 million, Waldman once more cited the victims’ fear of what Box would do to them in retaliation for his arrest. “Now [they] have a chance of safety since he’s behind bars,” she said.
Outside the courtroom, after Taylor ordered the current $2 million bail amount remain the same, Balash said he was “angry” by the decision. “A $2 million bail is the same as no bail,” he said. Balash also said statements given by the victims are not credible. “You have testimony from his wife, who’s crazy!” he exclaimed.
Box is scheduled to appear in court again on January 3 at 8:30 a.m. for a preliminary hearing, which will determine if there is enough evidence against him for the case to go to trial.