Hefner pleads guilty to indecent assault

Husband of former Senate president sentenced to probation

BRYON HEFNER SPARED his estranged husband the embarrassment of a public trial, and offered the victims of his sexual predation an apology as he pleaded guilty to three criminal counts in Suffolk Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon.

The 32-year-old committed the crimes of indecent assault and battery and illicit dissemination of a nude photo while romantically tied to Stan Rosenberg, the Amherst Democrat and former Senate president whose political career was immolated in late 2017 by the accusations along with later evidence that he had turned a blind eye to Hefner’s behavior. On Tuesday, Rosenberg was not in the courtroom and Hefner told the judge the two are separated.

In victims’ statements read by prosecutor Ian Polumbaum, the unnamed men accused Hefner of wielding his influence as the partner of a powerful senator, making them feel “helpless,” ashamed, and eager to see Hefner take some responsibility for his actions. One man, who was allegedly groped by Hefner in 2014, took a different perspective from the others and felt more like a witness than a victim, according to Polumbaum. The charge connected to that man was dropped.

As Hefner pled guilty to three charges and offered a terse statement of remorse the day before his trial was set to begin, prosecutors agreed to drop a total of six charges against him. Tuesday’s court proceedings dispensed with charges that had been slated for a second trial.

“I’d like to apologize to the victims for any personal harm I may have caused them, and to my family for any pain I may have caused them,” Hefner said when offered the opportunity to address those gathered in the eighth floor courtroom.

Judge Mary Ames agreed to a plea deal arranged between defense and prosecution sentencing Hefner to three years of probation for one count of assault and battery and one count of indecent assault and battery, and one year in the Suffolk County House of Correction to be suspended for three years for disseminating an illicit nude photo. As his defense attorney Tracy Miner pointed out, each of the three crimes that Hefner pled guilty to occurred while he was under the influence of alcohol.

Hefner was prohibited from contacting the four victims identified in the nine-count indictment. He was also ordered to refrain from drugs and alcohol (with testing to ensure he complies) and to continue mental health and substance abuse treatment while also maintaining fulltime employment. He must also register with the Sex Offender Registry Board, and submit blood, hair, and saliva samples to the State Police lab, and pay multiple court fees including the $65 monthly probation charge.

Miner, who in an earlier court filing likened the case to throwing “mud on the wall” with the hopes some would stick, was dismissive of some of the accusations against her client even after his guilty plea.

“I’m still dismissive of the charges,” Miner told reporters outside Suffolk Superior Court in response to a question about her earlier dismissive stance. “Not the ones he pled guilty to. The way it was presented in the press at the beginning was a very different set of charges. He has admitted that he was wrong. I’m not dismissing the charges. It was a wrong thing to do. They were serious offenses, but they’re not what the public was led to believe early on.”

The criminal case came about after a November 2017 Boston Globe article leveled groping accusations against Hefner, which led Rosenberg to step aside from the Senate presidency days later. The Globe report also prompted the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate whether Rosenberg had violated any rules. Right after the issuance of the committee’s sprawling report into Hefner’s misbehavior and Rosenberg’s “significant failure of judgment and leadership,” Rosenberg resigned from the Senate in May 2018.

On Tuesday, Hefner admitted to groping a man’s private parts through his clothes at the Beacon Hill condo he shared with Rosenberg on June 18, 2015, forcefully kissing a man after a roof deck party on Aug. 21, 2016, and disseminating a nude photo around December 2013. Unlike the other victims in the matter, the man who was photographed naked had engaged in a “consensual sexual encounter” with Hefner at a Puerto Rico hotel, according to a court filing, but did not consent to being photographed naked – and didn’t even know that it had happened until much later. While at a conference, that person recalled drinking a lot of alcohol and being in a hotel suite with Hefner. He then woke up naked and alone in his bed, according to prosecutors. In a court filing, Miner claimed no known copy of the photo still exists.

Although news organizations generally do not identify victims of sexual crimes, going forward with the trial would have required victims to testify and share their identity with a courtroom packed with news media. None of the identities of the victims were disclosed Tuesday, but prosecutors read statements from two of them – a man who claimed to have been groped multiple times, and the man who was forcefully kissed while leaving a party.

“In exercising his power over me, he used his felonious and wanton behaviors as an extension of his political influence and insider gamesmanship,” read the statement from the man who was groped. “When he touched me a pit formed in my stomach as if my mind was retreating from my body, and I immediately felt deeply violated, powerless, and repulsed. I felt like I was no longer me.”

The victim claimed Hefner also groped him in a car where Rosenberg was present, and also at a dinner attended by Rosenberg, another senator, and politicos, but those charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.

The man who was forcefully kissed wrote that it had taken “years of therapy” to understand that Hefner was solely to blame for the assault. Each victim agreed to the disposition of the case, according to the prosecution team, which included assistant attorney general Jennifer Snook.

Wearing a dark suit and sporting a full beard, Hefner told the judge that he has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, alcohol, and substance abuse, and continues to face mental health challenges. Now employed fulltime in the culinary industry, Hefner’s PTSD stems from events that occurred during his childhood, and has been sober for more than a year, according to Miner.

Hefner is 37 years younger than Rosenberg, but they both shared the difficult background of being raised as foster children. Rosenberg’s relationship with Hefner was a major factor in the politician’s decision to come out as gay. Rosenberg was the first openly gay Senate president, and a liberal who steered many progressive bills through the Senate during his tenure at the top from early 2015 through much of 2017. Rosenberg’s “shared leadership” style was welcomed by some senators who were given more autonomy to pursue their own policy agendas, but the approach made the chamber appear somewhat disjointed to outsiders.