A police officer trying to find stolen property found himself face-to-face in a University of Virginia cafeteria with one of this area’s most-arrested people, the woman whose allegation of a violent abduction put a man to jail for over two years.
This time, however, the stakes were lower, as the officer was tracking 30-year-old Chelsea Eileen Steiniger to find a scooter that didn’t belong to her. Inside a UVa cafeteria, he said he saw her steal a sweet tea. The tea charge was dropped last week, as Steiniger pleaded guilty to petty larceny for taking a scooter that a University of Virginia nurse had been using for his commute.
“You’re pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty?” asked Judge Andrew Sneathern.
“Yes,” Steiniger said quietly.
Sneathern assigned punishment as 60 days in jail with all of the time suspended plus restitution to the nurse for the unrecovered electric scooter. But Steiniger’s attorney, L. Dayton Haugh, requested a year to pay the restitution.
“She has other restitution due in the county,” Haugh explained during the February 9 hearing Charlottesville General District Court.
Few people have kept local courts as busy as Steiniger. At the time of her arrest, Steiniger was on bail for four counts of drug possession, three counts of forging checks, two counts of bail violation, and one count of failure to appear. Her fugitive status initially caused her to be held without bail on the scooter and sweet tea theft charges.
She eventually won a deferred disposition on the drug charges, which were reduced to drug paraphernalia charges. And while she would plead guilty to the other charges, she received suspended sentences and was charged $394 in court costs.
Then, while the scooter case was moving through the courts, Steiniger was arrested in mid-October for grand larceny in Albemarle. It was a delayed arrest for a prior scooter theft, and she pleaded guilty to petty larceny, received a 30-day active sentence, and was charged $111 in costs.
The most extensive criminal case involving Steiniger positioned her as the victim, her 2012 claim that she was abducted by a grocery store manager who had given Steiniger a ride in his car. Mark Lawrence Weiner served over two years in jail before winning release in 2015 amid defense evidence portraying Steiniger as a fabulist who concocted the tale to anger a boyfriend.
While the court heard sworn defense allegations that Steiniger lied, no jury ever got to evaluate that evidence that included cellphone data, tape recordings, and witnesses disputing her claims. She was not prosecuted for making her claims, and Weiner’s release came on an unusual non-written motion provided orally to the Albemarle Circuit Court by then prosecutor Denise Lunsford. Lunsford’s only sanction for carrying the questionable case was seeing it become an issue in her reelection campaign as Albemarle’s Commonwealth Attorney. She was narrowly voted out of office that fall.
In 2018, federal judge Norman K. Moon branded Steiniger’s testimony in the Weiner case “false,” but he dismissed Weiner’s civil suit on the basis that government employees cannot be sued.
“The Weiner case was a sad demonstration of how easily the criminal justice system can convict the innocent while depriving them of the means to correct the injustice,” Contacted this week, the Richmond attorney for Mark Lawrence Weiner, told The Daily Progress this week in an email.
As for the scooter theft from the hospital, the nurse tells the Progress that he left his foldable electric scooter chained in a corral outside of the emergency room during his shift. A surveillance image he shared shows the scooter stowed on footboard of a black mo-ped as Steiniger rides away.