A Chevy Chase landlord who hid tiny video cameras in his tenants’ bedrooms received no jail time Tuesday from a judge who said psychiatric treatment is called for more than time behind bars.
“We have a gentleman here who, I guess, I can only characterize as being disturbed or sick, and that’s been confirmed by many sources,” Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Paul H. Weinstein said Tuesday.
Weinstein ordered the landlord, Dennis Van Dusen, 64, to continue psychotherapy, pay a $2,500 fine and serve five years of probation. The sentence came moments after Van Dusen — a lawyer with two master’s degrees from Harvard University — offered reasons for his bizarre behavior. The troubles can be traced to his childhood, according to his attorney, who said Van Dusen’s mother was such a hoarder that he had to sleep in the attic.
“My stresses had just this awful control over me,” Van Dusen read from a statement while choking back tears, “and I did not know what to do about it.”
According to police and crime-scene photographs, Van Dusen hid the cameras in walls and ceilings. Prosecutors said he used low rent to lure female tenants to his home along tree-lined Ridgewood Avenue, about a mile north of the District.
He recorded at least three tenants in various states of undress or having sex with their boyfriends, according to prosecutors. He stored more than 150 digital recordings, some of them more than an hour in length, in files labeled “keep,” prosecutor Stephen Chaikin said.
Van Dusen pleaded guilty in April to three counts of “visual surveillance with prurient intent.” Prosecutors agreed to limit their request for jail time to 18 months. On Tuesday, they asked Weinstein to sentence Van Dusen to 12 months of incarceration.
The case has drawn national attention. In court Tuesday, a producer from TV show “Inside Edition” took notes.
Van Dusen’s attorney told Weinstein on Tuesday that a confluence of factors tracing to his client’s childhood led him to the crimes. “His mother was a hoarder,” said attorney Samuel Delgado, a history that gave him the impression that material possessions were more important than he was. Things also got too crowded in the main parts of the house.
“He was pushed up into the attic,” Delgado said. “He lived up in the attic for many, many years, because that was the only safe place, the only place he could actually spread out and lay down and do his homework.”
Van Dusen enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. He received a number of degrees, including one in computer science and another in applied mathematics. He tried his luck with start-up companies. He went to law school but had trouble with the law-licensing process.
Van Dusen also spoke of his struggles. But he made a point to apologize to his tenants, two of whom were in the courtroom. The issues were “my problem, not yours,” he said. “I’m very sorry about all of it, but mostly sorry about how if affects you.”
Van Dusen didn’t disseminate any of the videos on the Internet. But he left at least two of his tenants devastated by his actions. They spoke in court Tuesday.
One told Weinstein that after she learned of the secretly recorded videos, she couldn’t sleep, eat or concentrate at work. “I was just heartbroken,” she said. “It was so embarrassing and so humiliating.”
The other said she constantly notices video cameras, telling Weinstein that she was aware of two in the courtroom. “Right now. Bam, bam. I see every camera everywhere I go, every second. . . . The world is just a different place to me.”