The women were targeted because they needed help with custody cases or criminal charges, according to the prosecutor. Some have struggled with drug use or have been sexual abuse survivors.
But when Chad M. Salsman led the women into his private law firm, ostensibly to discuss their cases, he forced them onto his desk and sexually assaulted them, prosecutors said. Then he told the women not to tell anyone what had happened.
Mr. Salsman, who was a practicing defense attorney at the time, won the 2019 Bradford County, Pennsylvania District Attorney election.
But his pattern of predatory behavior was not publicly known until he was arrested Wednesday and charged with more than a dozen crimes, including sexual assault, indecent assault, and intimidation of a witness or victim, prosecutors said.
Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro said the charges mirrored crimes against five women in recent years, although he said his office knew of additional victims whose cases could not be prosecuted because the crimes were too long ago were committed under the limitation period.
“The details of these attacks are incredibly disturbing and criminal,” Shapiro said at a news conference in Bradford County, a rural part of Pennsylvania about 65 miles northwest of Scranton along the New York State Line.
“Mr. Salsman has abused his position of authority as a lawyer and as a civil servant here in this county,” Shapiro said. “The victims in this case trusted that he was their attorney and represented them at a time when they felt powerless, and instead they were hunted. “
Mr Salsman, 44, pleaded not guilty and plans to fight the charges, said his lawyer, Samuel Stretton.
Mr Salsman has declined requests to resign despite handing day-to-day case processing to his first assistant district attorney, Mr Stretton said.
“He has denied any wrongdoing,” said Stretton. “There was never any non-consensual sex. There was never any inappropriate touch. It is just not true, and we have adequate confirmation to prove it. “
Mr. Salsman began his legal career in 2001 and won a Republican race to replace the retired district attorney in 2019. He said that his three daughters inspired him to run and that he hoped to rid the county of its reputation as “Meth Valley”.
“I want both my and your family to feel safe in Bradford County,” he told the Morning Times in Sayre, Pennsylvania in October 2019. “I will be a tough but fair district attorney who always seeks justice for victims of crime.” Protecting Our Constitutional Rights. “
But even before he took office in January 2020, Mr Salsman was already under investigation, according to court records showing the case had been referred to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office by Mr Salsman’s predecessor as District Attorney Daniel Barrett in late 2019.
The investigation found that Mr. Salsman had a pattern of advancement, coercion and assault against female clients who were in vulnerable legal or personal situations, Mr. Shapiro said.
Mr Salsman would first ask the women for explicit photos or grope them in court or in private meetings, Mr Shapiro said. When the women said they had financial problems, Mr. Salsman urged them to have sex instead of charging them legal fees, Mr. Shapiro said.
After Mr. Salsman attacked the women, he directed them to a small bathroom in his office to clean up with paper towels or rags, Mr. Shapiro said.
Employees at Mr. Salsman’s law firm told a grand panel of judges that he had asked his secretaries to play music or operate a noise machine or air conditioning during client meetings. Staff said they often saw women leave the office in tears, Mr Shapiro said, adding that Mr Salsman had told victims he could “ruin their lives” if they spoke up.
Most of the malpractice charged in the case occurred while Mr Salsman was in private practice as a defense attorney, although Mr Shapiro said an attack occurred in November 2019 after Mr Salsman was elected district attorney but before he took office started.
Mr. Shapiro said Mr. Salsman also continued to intimidate his victims after he was sworn in.
“Even during our bureau’s secret trial when he was District Attorney, Chad Salsman tried to pressure victims and staff to reveal what they told the grand jury in that secret trial – another attempt silencing them and attempting to corrupt the judicial process. “
Mr Shapiro said that Mr Salsman “chose these victims on purpose,” adding, “He thought they were easily silenced and probably less believed if they ever did occur. We have seen this playbook before. “
The Bradford County Abuse and Rape Crisis Center called the charge “traumatizing and horrific to our community” and said it believed there were likely more victims who went unreported.
The center said on Facebook that Mr. Salsman’s legal license should be revoked and that he must resign.
“As this case progresses through the legal system,” it said, “there is a broken trust in the safety and integrity of the Bradford County District Attorney’s Office that cannot be cured while Salsman continues to have access to past, current and future victim files.” ”