Hefner pleads guilty on eve of trial

Boston Statehouse

Bryon Hefner walked across Pemberton Square on Tuesday after pleading guilty in Suffolk Superior Court to indecent assault and battery, assault and battery, and dissemination of a nude photograph. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

BOSTON (SHNS) – Bryon Hefner, the husband of former Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and a key figure in a scandal that roiled the Massachusetts Senate, was sentenced to three years probation after pleading guilty to three of the charges against him in Suffolk Superior Court on Tuesday.

As part of a plea agreement that Hefner’s attorney, Tracy Miner, said was negotiated “over a long period of time” prosecutors dropped the other charges Hefner was facing in connection with his alleged sexual assault and harassment of men on Beacon Hill.

He had originally pleaded not guilty, and his trial was set to officially begin on Wednesday. The allegations raised against Hefner in late 2017 plunged the Senate into a period of turmoil, leading to Rosenberg’s resignation as president and then from his legislative seat.

Hefner, 32, pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of indecent assault and battery, assault and battery, and dissemination of a nude photograph. He will be required to register as a sex offender.

Superior Court Judge Mary Ames described the acts Hefner admitted to as “egregious,” with an “outrageousness” to the manner in which they were committed. Two of the victims, in statements read by special assistant attorney general Ian Polumbaum, described the assaults against them as ways of exerting power and said they were afraid to speak out afterwards because of Hefner’s relationship to Rosenberg, an influential figure in state government.

Polumbaum said prosecutors had “extensive conversations” with the four victims, who did not attend Tuesday’s hearing, and that the plea deal would allow the four men — who have not been publicly identified — to maintain their anonymity in a high-profile case where some of the evidence is “embarrassing” in nature.

“It’s a very big deal to them that he steps up and admits the charges,” Polumbaum said.

The first victim said he felt powerless and experienced a “hopeless wish to exist in a universe where this had never happened” after Hefner grabbed his genitals in 2015. He called Hefner’s behavior an “extension of political influence and insider gamesmanship” and said he later left his job in the State House because he could no longer envision working there.

The second victim, who Polumbaum said was “aggressively kissed” by Hefner, said in his statement that he was “terrified” to say anything about the incident and its aftermath, thinking no one would take his side “because of who Bryon Hefner portrayed himself to be” and because of who his husband was. He said he was still angry and scared but glad to finally put the situation to rest.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Snook said the state was prepared to prove that Hefner grabbed the genitals of one man in a Beacon Hill condo in June 2015; that Hefner put his arm around another man, pulled him close and kissed him on the lips while they were leaving an elevator in August 2016; and that in December 2013, a third man who had been attending a conference with Hefner woke up naked after a night drinking with Hefner and later learned that Hefner had taken a nude photo of him and showed it to others.

After Snook outlined the prosecution’s case, Ames asked Hefner, “Did you in fact do the acts and things described to the court just now?” Hefner answered yes.

Hefner made a brief statement in court, saying, “I’d like to apologize to the victims.”

He gave his marital status as separated and said he had been employed in the culinary field for about a year. He said he was in recovery for substance abuse and had undergone treatment in the past for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ames agreed to the sentence recommended by prosecutors, giving Hefner three years probation on each of the assault charges, to be served concurrently, and one year in the Suffolk House of Corrections, suspended for three years.

Ames told Hefner that during his probation he must continue his mental health and substance abuse treatment, refrain from contacting victims and witnesses, remain drug- and alcohol-free, and maintain full-time employment. She said she will retain jurisdiction over his case.

“That means, Mr. Hefner, if you decide after this change of plea to veer from the correct route and doing all of the things that this court expects you to do, you will come back before me, and it will not be a pleasant conversation,” she said.

Ames said that Hefner “seems to have begun the journey toward self-realization and understanding and controlling things like the alcohol abuse and alcoholism.”

“It’s a long road, of course,” she said.

Miner said that alcohol “was involved” in each of the counts to which Hefner pled guilty, and that he is an alcoholic. She said he is receiving therapy and has been sober for more than a year.

Rosenberg announced in December 2017 that Hefner was seeking treatment for alcohol dependence, and three days later resigned from the presidency. He resigned from the Senate in May 2018 after 27 years serving in that branch, following the release of an Ethics Committee investigation that found he demonstrated a “significant failure of judgment and leadership” by not doing more to intervene with Hefner, who he knew to be “volatile.”

Sen. Harriette Chandler, who the Senate had tapped to temporarily succeed Rosenberg as president, at the time offered an apology on behalf of the full-body “to the victims, staff and all whose lives were affected.”

The Senate last session also embarked on a review of its sexual harassment policies, and its rules this year include language explicitly prohibiting harassment, requiring mandatory anti-harassment training for all senators and staff, and calling for instances of harassment or other rule violations to be referred to the Ethics Committee.

Senate Counsel Jennifer Miller was among those in the courtroom audience during the hearing.

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