She told Salsman she did not have money to pay him because she had been out of work for six months. Salsman allegedly told her the situation was dire — she might face jail time — but he could still represent her in exchange for sex, according to state prosecutors. If he won his race to become top prosecutor in Bradford County, he allegedly told her, he could make her DUI charge go away.
“He told me once he got into the D.A.'s position that everything I owed him was no longer an issue,” the woman testified, adding that she felt she had “no choice” but to comply, according to a criminal complaint.
Since then, at least five women have accused Salsman of sexual harassment and assault, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D), who on Wednesday charged Salsman with more than a dozen counts, including multiple counts of sexual assault, indecent exposure and attempting to intimidate witnesses.
The attorney general accused Salsman of targeting vulnerable abuse victims and addicts, forcing them to perform sex acts on his desk while ordering his legal staff to drown out the noise with music, and then intimidating the women to keep quiet about the abuse.
“Five women, independent of one another, experienced the same pattern of advances, coercion, and assault at the hands of Mr. Salsman when he was a defense attorney,” Shapiro said in a statement. “They had to rely on Salsman to be their advocate, to represent them at a time they felt powerless, and instead they were preyed upon.”
Neither Salsman nor his attorney immediately returned requests for comment late Thursday. Salsman’s attorney, Sam Stretton, told the Associated Press that his client denies the allegations.
“My investigation seems to support that proposition,” Stretton told the outlet. “So we will vigorously try this case. This will not be a plea.”
Salsman, who has been practicing law since 2001, ran for district attorney in Bradford County two years ago against an assistant district attorney after the previous top prosecutor retired.
“I want both my family and yours to feel safe living in Bradford County,” he said in a questionnaire emailed to him by a local newspaper in 2019. “I will be a tough but fair district attorney who always seeks justice for crime victims while protecting our constitutional rights.”
But an investigation into Salsman had already begun before he won a spot among the county’s top law enforcement officials. Former Bradford County district attorney Daniel Barrett forwarded the case on to the state attorney general in late 2019 after Salsman’s victory.
Salsman allegedly targeted vulnerable women he felt he could wield power over, according to the charging document.
“Salsman picked these victims because they didn’t have any other choice, because he thought they would be easy to silence, and less likely to be believed if they ever came forward,” Shapiro said in a statement.
The women all shared similar stories with a grand jury, according to the criminal complaint. They alleged that Salsman would grope them without their consent during one-on-one meetings in his office and even under the table during court hearings. At least two of the women said Salsman forced them to disrobe in his office and then penetrated them without consent, and he allegedly asked the women to “clean up” in his private bathroom before leaving the office.
Salsman was allegedly court-appointed to represent one woman, identified as H.H. in court documents, in a child custody matter in December 2017. According to the charging document, he allegedly told the woman that he was not being compensated to take her case.
“In reality, this assertion, intended to pressure his client into sex, was a lie,” state prosecutors said in the criminal complaint. “Salsman actually was paid for his court-appointed representation with taxpayer’s funds in the amount of $2,115.”
According to the complaint, Salsman allegedly sent H.H. a “steady stream” of harassing messages, including unwanted nude photos and sexual videos. He allegedly pressured her to send nude photos in return. She eventually sought different counsel, but when she went to Salsman’s office to retrieve her case file, he allegedly groped her breasts.
“H.H. was able to kick Salsman and leave with her file,” the complaint said.
Another woman, identified as L.W., met Salsman while he was representing her boyfriend in a child custody matter. She said that she confided to Salsman that she had been the victim of a violent rape in the past. During the course of their professional relationship, Salsman hired her boyfriend to do repair work at his office and loaned L.W. money.
When she visited Salsman to make her last payment on that loan, he allegedly told her to undress while alone in his office. She complied out of fear, she testified, and Salsman allegedly penetrated her without consent. After the alleged assault, Salsman told her “not to breathe a word to anyone, or he would ruin her life,” the criminal complaint said.
State prosecutors allege that Salsman took efforts to obscure his actions from his legal staff. In testimony to the grand jury, staff members said that Salsman encouraged them to play music or noise machines to “drown out anything that could be happening in his office,” even though his legal secretaries fall under the scope of attorney-client privilege. Staff also testified that they saw women leave Salsman’s office “in tears or distress” on multiple occasions.
As the investigation into Salsman unfolded, after he had been sworn in as district attorney, he allegedly told the women involved not to cooperate with police and tried to convince them to share details of their testimony with him.
Salsman’s bail was set at bail was set at $500,000. He paid 10 percent and was released on Wednesday, his lawyer said.