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Music promoter Seth Hurwitz pleads guilty to sexual solicitation

Seth Hurwitz shown in 2009 outside the 9:30 Club in the District of Columbia.
Seth Hurwitz shown in 2009 outside the 9:30 Club in the District of Columbia. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

Music promoter Seth Hurwitz, a major figure in the Washington live-music scene, pleaded guilty Thursday to soliciting a licensed massage therapist for sex acts and was sentenced to three years’ probation.

“I’m hoping to put this way, way, way, way behind me,” Hurwitz, 61, said during a 50-minute hearing in Montgomery County District Court.

He apologized to the victim, who was in court.

“I’m sorry that I hurt her, if I did. I’m sorry if I hurt my family,” he said. “If the goal of the arrest was to prevent someone like me from doing this again, they have definitely succeeded.”

Before Hurwitz spoke, the victim spoke about the effect of the experience with Hurwitz.

“It was very degrading. It was very demeaning,” the massage therapist said in court. “I am not a sex worker.”

“My practice is a place of healing for people. I get people out of pain,” she said.

On Aug. 15, Hurwitz had booked a therapeutic massage. Once on the table, as he was receiving a massage to his lower body, Hurwitz said, according to charging documents: “If you would be willing to go a little higher, your tip would improve.”

He also said he could be the woman’s “best paying client.”

Hurwitz owns the 9:30 Club and the Anthem, two live-music venues in the District, and is chairman of I.M.P., a concert promotion and production company that has operating agreements with the Merriweather Post Pavilion and the Lincoln Theatre.

After his arrest on the solicitation charge, in August, he stepped back from involvement in his day-to-day business operations. Hurwitz has undergone residential treatment, counseling and is returning to a more active role in running the operations, Paul Kemp, a lawyer for Hurwitz, said Thursday after the hearing.

Earlier, in court, Kemp said that an “avalanche” of news coverage of the case after Hurwitz’s arrest had already served as punishment.

Kemp said his client “has no criminal history whatsoever” and is a high school graduate who built his concert and promotions operation. “He runs a huge business; he has 1,750 employees,” Kemp said.

In many sexual-solicitation cases, defendants in Montgomery County receive “probation before judgment,” a resolution that does not yield a conviction on their record.

Kemp requested such an outcome Thursday. District Judge Holly David Reed said no but indicated that he would consider the request after Hurwitz undergoes a psychosexual evaluation.

Prosecutor Sheila Bagheri had earlier said the comparison by Hurwitz’s lawyers to other solicitation cases was not fitting because the victim in his case was not someone selling sex.

“This case is wildly different,” she said.

In court, Hurwitz admitted to events that were part of a lengthy police affidavit filed when he was arrested. Bagheri read aloud the affidavit, at one point apologizing to the judge for the vulgar language it contained, while Hurwitz stood next to his attorneys, hands behind his back, listening.

According to the affidavit, Hurwitz, of Bethesda, contacted the woman’s business on the day he received the massage.

The massage therapist, in later conversations with detectives, said she felt increasingly uncomfortable with Hurwitz’s behavior and ended the massage 10 minutes early, according to the police affidavit.

Hurwitz paid $300 for the $145 massage. “The victim said that is the most she had ever been paid for a massage,” police wrote.

The next day, according to court records, she contacted detectives. The massage therapist then exchanged text messages with Hurwitz and talked with him on a speakerphone in the presence of two vice detectives, according to court records.

Hurwitz repeatedly said he didn’t want to do anything the woman didn’t want to do.

“I’m very accepting of people, and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable,” he said on the call, according to detectives.

At least three times during the call, the court records show, Hurwitz agreed to pay the woman a specific amount for a specific sex act.

At one of the detective’s direction, the woman told Hurwitz she was worried about losing her massage license.

“Hurwitz responded that he had a lot more to lose than she did and that’s why he did not like texting as opposed to phone calls,” investigators wrote.

A spokeswoman for Hurwitz’s businesses declined to comment Thursday but provided a statement that Hurwitz sent out within his company after the hearing.

In it, Hurwitz described finding opportunity in the adversity of the arrest and told his employees, “I am sorry for any distress I may have caused you about who you work for.

“This was, in fact, a great opportunity to step back and take a look at who I really am. Definitely needed some work,” the statement read in part. “Rather than present my side of this story in a court, with all that unwanted drama, I am going to do what’s best for my family and employees and put this behind us. There are simply times when, regardless of the facts or the law, it is much better to plead or settle and move on. This is one of those times.”

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