Gage pleads not guilty to sex charges
By Eric Dolson

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Steven Gage pleaded not guilty on Monday, September 11 to charges that he had sex with girls in his care when he operated Royal Haven Equestrian Center for Girls, according to Deschutes County District Attorney Mike Dugan.

Gage also pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal mistreatment for allegedly failing to provide adequate medical care, and charges of theft and money laundering.

Gage's daughter, Merilee Groesz, 21, called The Nugget to say that she believes her father is innocent. Groesz said she lived at Royal Haven, "once for a brief period."

Groesz said she speaks with her father by telephone and "I believe he is innocent, and so do a lot of people. He prays and he knows the truth will set him free."

Groesz does not believe it is fair that her father remains in jail while awaiting trial. She points out that he turned himself in, and did not flee even when he knew an arrest was imminent.

"The law used to be you are innocent until proven guilty," she said. "It seems he is guilty until he proven innocent."

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When asked if there could be some truth to any of the accusations, Groesz said "Not at all, whatsoever. I know my father. He would never, ever do anything like that. God put him on the earth to help people, and that is what he has done."

She said she has not talked to any of the alleged victims, nor any of the girls from Royal Haven who still support Gage.

"He would not have done this," Groesz said. "I know his character. He would not do anything like that."

When asked why so many girls would make these allegations, Groesz said "They did not want to be there. Some were bitter when they came. They had basic chores. There were tons of animals and they had chores, like I did when was little. I don't know what the motive is."

Groesz said that there is evidence that the girls were doing well at Royal Haven.

"Even in the newspaper, you wrote that a lot of the girls were doing well in school and their parents wanted to keep them there. Schooling is the first thing to suffer (in these situations). That wasn't the case."

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Gage remains in jail on $1 million bond for the 121 counts. The trial is expected to begin in January or February 2001, and last three months, D.A. Dugan said.

"We have witnesses all over the United States. (It will not be easy) getting them here and orchestrating when they will testify," said Dugan.

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