A Pennsylvania prosecutor has been accused of sexually assaulting at least five female clients, including trading legal services for sex and demanding nude photographs, while he was retained as their defense attorney.
Bradford County District Attorney Chad Michael Salsman, 44, was charged Wednesday with a slew of crimes, including sexual assault, indecent assault, witness intimidation, obstruction of justice, and promoting prostitution, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.
Prosecutors allege Salsman, a Republican elected in November 2019, manipulated several women into unwanted sexual acts and sexually assaulted them. After forcing some of the women into unwanted sex acts on his office desk, Salsman then directed them into his private bathroom to “clean up” using paper towels or cleaning wipes, according to a criminal complaint. Then, he threatened them into silence.
“Chad Salsman would regularly use his position and power as an attorney to coerce his victims into performing sexual acts on him,” Shapiro said in a statement. “He would bring them into his private office, under the guise of discussing their case, and used his knowledge of his clients’ vulnerabilities to negate their consent and sexually assault them.”
“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,” he added.
Salsman defeated long-time Assistant District Attorney Al Ondrey in 2019 to become the top prosecutor in Bradford County, a rural community three hours outside Philadelphia. Prior to that, he was an Adams County prosecutor and a private defense attorney in Bradford.
According to local media reports, he is a married father of three and, as recently as 2019, a vice-chairman of the missions committee for the Braintrim Baptist Church. He cited his three young daughters as his reason for running for DA.
The attorney general’s office alleged one of the assaults took place between Salsman’s November 2019 election and his swearing in as district attorney. The witness-tampering charges stem from allegedly trying to coerce his victims not to testify against him after he became DA.
According to charging documents, five women testified to a grand jury about being abused while Salsman defended them in criminal and child-custody cases. Many of his clients “struggled with addictions, had a history of being sexually abused, or suffered from other vulnerabilities that Salsman exploited.”
Several members of Salsman’s staff also testified they saw women leave his office in distress and that their boss went to great lengths to hide the abuse, including asking his secretary to play music or use a white noise machine to drown out the noise.
In one instance, he assaulted a woman who had been the victim of a prior violent rape and another who faced incarceration without Salsman’s help, prosecutors said.
One woman, identified in court papers as L.J., told authorities she hired Salsman in 2017 to represent her to fight harassment and possession of drug paraphernalia charges. But instead of billing her for his services, Salsman allegedly “requested she provide nude photographs or videos depicting sexual acts between [her] and her girlfriend,” the complaint states.
After complying with his request, L.J. alleged Salsman sexually assaulted her in his law office. On one occasion, Salsman “led her to his desk and directed her to disrobe” before he raped her.
“In an attempt to explain that she did not want to have sex with Salsman, L.J. told him that she was gay,” the complaint states, noting that “this did not stop Salsman” and he even chastised her “for not displaying pleasure.”
The woman said she didn’t immediately tell her girlfriend what had happened because she was “ashamed.”
Another woman, identified to the court as H.H., testified that Salsman became her court-appointed representative in December 2017 in a child-custody case. She said that Salsman made “suggestive comments and would touch her under the table during court proceedings” and asked to have sex with him multiple times.
“He told her to send videos of her having sex with someone since she refused to have sex with him,” the complaint states, adding that when she refused, “Salsman told her that he needed naked pictures because he was not adequately compensated for his representation.” “At that point, H.H. felt she had no choice and sent nude pictures to Salsman.”
The complaint states that despite Salsman’s assertions to H.H. that he wasn’t being paid, he received $2,115 in taxpayer funds for the count-appointed representation.
H.H. said she sought new legal counsel in April 2019 and went to Salsman’s office to obtain a file—a simple request that allegedly resulted in the defense attorney grabbing her breasts forcibly, the complaint states. Prosecutors say H.H. met with Salsman after he became the district attorney, when she was cooperating with the Pennsylvania State Police, who were looking into him.
“Salsman told H.H. that the investigation must be about him having sex with his clients, but he claimed—despite his unsuccessful assault on H.H. herself—that the sex was all entirely consensual and the investigation was therefore, in his word, a ‘witch hunt.’”
Another former client, identified as A.M., testified that Salsman pressured her into sexual acts in exchange for his legal services in 2018, when she was just 19. After he allegedly groped A.M without her consent, she relented and had sex with Salsman because “she felt as though she had no choice in the face of being sent to jail,” prosecutors said.
Following the assault, A.M. says she “paid almost nothing for legal services.” After state police contacted her, Salsman allegedly pushed A.M. to “get information from other women about anything they may have revealed to authorities.”
“He told her never to disclose what had occurred and indicated that he could help her if he became the District Attorney,” the complaint states, adding that Salsman assaulted A.M. as recently as November 2019.
Sam Stretton, Salsman’s defense attorney, said Salsman denies the allegations and said his own investigation supports the proposition that there was no forced sex. On Wednesday afternoon, Salsman waived a preliminary hearing, and a judge set his bail at $500,000.
“There was never any grabbing, improper touching,” Stretton told reporters. “There was never anything of that nature. Never any intimidation.”