Bryon Hefner, who multiple men said sexually assaulted them after he gained access to the highest echelon of Beacon Hill power, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reduced set of charges, providing a coda to a case that upended Massachusetts politics and the career of Hefner’s husband, former Senate president Stanley C. Rosenberg.
Once facing a nine-count indictment, Hefner, 32, will avoid immediate jail time but must register as a sex offender after pleading guilty in Suffolk Superior Court to one count each of indecent assault and battery, disseminating a nude photo, and a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery.
Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office prosecuted the closely watched case, agreed to dismiss a series of other charges one day before jury selection had been scheduled to begin.
The plea deal came nearly two years after allegations against Hefner first exploded into public view in the Globe, quickly drawing the attention of authorities and, in the months that followed, forcing a reckoning on Beacon Hill around how officials handle complaints of sexual harassment.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Mary K. Ames, in accepting prosecutors’ recommendation, sentenced Hefner to three years of probation and a suspended one-year jail sentence, and ordered Hefner to remain drug and alcohol free, among other conditions.
“When we see sexual assaults, particularly sexual assaults of this nature, they are about exerting power over the victim and power over any other members of the community who may come to know about the assaults,” Ames said.
She added that she took into account that Hefner has “made strides” in recent years to get treatment for alcohol abuse and mental health problems.
“Mr. Hefner, if you decide . . . to veer from the correct route in doing all of the things this court expects you to do, you will come back before me,” Ames warned. “And it will not be a pleasant conversation.”
Several of Hefner’s victims said Tuesday they were grateful that Hefner will face real repercussions for his actions, most notably that he is required to register as a sex offender.
“The thing I was most concerned about in all of this was that this not happen again to anybody else,” one victim told the Globe. “I was always concerned that he could just walk away from this and let it fall into the annals of history. And now it will follow him around for the rest of his life.”
Another victim told the Globe that Tuesday’s plea agreement was as “close to justice as our system allows us to get.”
“I did not want him to go to jail, that didn’t seem like justice to me or public safety to me,” he said. “But I wanted there to be consequences, and there are.”
Hefner had faced five charges of indecent assault and battery after prosecutors said he groped two men against their will and forcibly kissed a third. He was also charged with circulating a nude photo of a fourth man who never agreed to have the pictures taken. According to a civil lawsuit filed by another of Hefner’s accusers — and which has since been dropped — the fourth man was an elected official.
As part of the plea deal, Hefner admitted to distributing the nude photo of the man, with whom Hefner’s attorney had said he engaged in “consensual sexual activity” in a Puerto Rico hotel room in 2013.
Hefner also ultimately admitted to grabbing one man’s genitals through his clothes at Hefner’s Beacon Hill condo in June 2015, and a second allegation that he “aggressively” kissed another victim on the lips without his consent in August 2016.
Speaking briefly in court, Hefner apologized both to the victims and his family, saying he was sorry for the pain he caused. Hefner told Ames he has undergone treatment, is currently separated from Rosenberg, and is working in the “culinary” industry.
Hefner did not speak to reporters as he left the courthouse. But his attorney, Tracy A. Miner, sought to draw a distinction between what her client admitted to in court and what she said was “reported in the press at the beginning.”
“He has admitted that he was wrong. I’m not dismissing the charges. It was a wrong thing to do,” Miner said. “But they’re not what the public was led to believe early on.”
However, two of the victims who spoke to the Globe in 2017, alleging Hefner assaulted them, were among those cited in his criminal case. And the charges brought by prosecutors mirrored the claims they first made.
Ian Polumbaum, a Suffolk County prosecutor working under Healey’s office for the case, said the agreement allows victims to avoid testifying in what would have been highly publicized case.
“It’s a very big deal to them that he steps up and admit the charges,” said Polumbaum, the chief of Suffolk’s domestic violence and sexual assault unit.
Healey and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins both commended the victims for coming forward.
“We were only able to prosecute this defendant because of the bravery of the survivors,” Healey said in a statement.
The accusations against Hefner reverberated through state politics, beginning in November 2017 when the Globe detailed allegations from four men who said Hefner had sexually assaulted or harassed them. Within days, Rosenberg — then Senate president and consequently one of the state’s most powerful officials — stepped down from his leadership post as a Senate committee investigated his conduct.
Healey and the Suffolk district attorney’s office indicted Hefner in March 2018. Months later, Rosenberg, a 31-year veteran on Beacon Hill, resigned his seat after the Senate’s Ethics Committee found that he gave Hefner unfettered access to his official e-mail and failed to protect the Senate and its staff from a spouse he knew had harassed them.
Rosenberg has said that he had not known about any of Hefner’s alleged sexual assaults, and the Senate’s outside investigator did not find any evidence to contradict that.
Rosenberg, 69, has said that Hefner’s presence in his life helped him become the person he is, supporting him as he beat back cancer and giving him strength to disclose that he is gay.
Reached by text message Tuesday, Rosenberg declined to comment.
The current Senate president, Karen E. Spilka, said the chamber was “grateful that this challenging chapter has come to a close.”
“Our thoughts today, as always, are with the victims, their loved ones, and anyone else who has experienced pain due to Mr. Hefner’s criminal acts,” Spilka said.