A Chevy Chase landlord pleaded guilty Tuesday to hiding tiny video cameras in the rooms of three women amid a prosecutor’s allegations that he used low-priced rents to lure them in as tenants so he could record them having sex.
Dennis Van Dusen, 64, created “a stage to exercise his prurient intent of watching these young women,” prosecutor Stephen Chaikin said in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Van Dusen pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges as part of a deal with prosecutors to drop other counts. He is scheduled to be sentenced in July. Prosecutors will seek no more than 18 months of jail time. State sentencing guidelines suggest a lower sentence — from probation to six months.
Van Dusen, a lawyer with two master’s degrees from Harvard University, lives in a home along Ridgewood Avenue, a tree-lined street about one mile north of the District. For years, he leased rooms in the house to young professional women, Chaikin said. Two of those former tenants were in court Tuesday to watch Van Dusen plead guilty. Speaking to reporters afterward, they described him as friendly. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their privacy.
“He was nice. He was very chatty,” one of them said.
She said Maryland needs to increase penalties for cases like Van Dusen’s. “With technology these days, it could happen anywhere,” she said.
The two women have sued Van Dusen over the recordings. Those cases are pending.
In court Tuesday, Chaikin described how the case came to light.
One of Van Dusen’s tenants read a story in a magazine about ways people can hide cameras. One of the locations: smoke detectors. She realized the smoke detector above her bed didn’t beep like a normal smoke detector after the power went out.
She and her boyfriend examined it and found a camera inside and wires leading into the ceiling. They called the police.
Detectives confiscated Van Dusen’s laptop and two hard drives. They examined the contents and found sexual images of three tenants.
Chaikin told Circuit Court Judge Paul Weinstein that he wanted to display still images captured from the videos and one 20-second video. The images didn’t show the women’s faces or show them naked, but Chaikin said the evidence supported charges of hiding cameras for “prurient intent.”
Van Dusen’s attorney, Samuel Delgado, objected.
“Publicly displaying these videos is going to produce further harm to potential plaintiffs in this case,” Delgado said. “And I object to a public display of this. My request is that the court clear the courtroom to avoid any further harm.”
Weinstein denied Delgado’s request.
In court, Van Dusen admitted to three counts of “visual surveillance with prurient intent.” He and Delgado said Van Dusen did not admit to broader allegations advanced by Chaikin, such as a scheme to use low rents to entice women to rent the rooms.
Weinstein placed bond conditions on Van Dusen pending his sentencing, which include forbidding him from advertising to lease rooms in his house. Weinstein said Van Dusen was to continue psychiatric treatment and said he wanted reports of his treatment prior to sentencing.
Police originally charged Van Dusen with seven counts of visual surveillance without consent, seven counts of using a camera without consent for prurient intent and one count of placement of a surreptitious surveillance device, according to court records. Records do not indicate that any of the alleged video images were posted on the Internet.
In an earlier interview, one of the women suing Van Dusen said that, at first, she couldn’t believe the allegations because nothing seemed strange about her landlord.
The tenant said she thinks there were at least two hidden cameras in her room — one in the ceiling, possibly in a smoke detector, and one in a wall. The images appeared to go back at least a year, she said. She wondered whether Van Dusen had been nice to her because he felt guilty. “Now I’m thinking that he was too nice,” she said.
The lawsuits allege that on Oct. 14, the day after police officers went to the house, Van Dusen sent text messages to two tenants. “I am willing to discuss settlement before you make a claim but not afterward,” the text messages allegedly said. “Best to communicate by email or txt.”