D.C.'s Oldest Living Smut Kingpin Tells All Meet Dennis Sobin: Mayoral Candidate, Phone-Sex Innovator, Kennedy Center Playwright, Child-Porn Convict and Wannabe Family Man

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Photos by Darrow Montgomery

About a decade ago, Darrin Sobin received a letter from an imprisoned man named Jailhouse Guitar Willie.

Willie had befriended Sobin’s father, Dennis Sobin, in prison. The elder Sobin, once dubbed Washington’s smut king, controlled swathes of the District’s sex industry in the 1980s. Since 1992, he’d been behind bars on charges related to fraud and sexual performance of a child. The conviction had cost Sobin his reputation as a pornographic Merry Prankster, not to mention what little remained of his phone-sex fortune.

But now, with his release date looming, he just wanted a happy reunion with his family.

Darrin Sobin had other ideas. Once employed in the family business, Darrin had earned his law degree and gone straight. After years of urging his pop to do the same, Darrin had given up. Now Guitar Willie was urging him to give the old letch one more chance.

“I hope you’ll go along with this, showing me you’re not as stubborn as your dad,” Willie wrote. He wasn’t the Sobin family’s only new jailhouse pen pal. Other letters came to Darrin’s kids. When one of them went unacknowledged, the jailed patriarch sent a nasty note. “If I do not get confirmation from [Darrin’s son] in his own writing by January, 15 2000 that he has received it, you and I will be locked in combat,” Dennis wrote, in a letter that became part of Darrin’s legal request for a restraining order against his father.

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That’s because there are no Bureau of Prisons records for a Jailhouse Guitar Willie, or any other pseudonymous jailhouse letter-writers. They aren’t real. They lived entirely in the mind of Dennis Sobin, part of yet another scheme to remind people outside prison, even his own son, that he still existed. Today, seven years after his release, it’s a mission that still consumes him.


Dennis Sobin is setting me at ease about threesomes. “If someone’s feeling left out, you kind of draw ’em in,” Sobin says.

Despite his prodigious sexual career, Sobin remains cheerfully enthusiastic, even innocent, about the subject. There’s no leering or winking. Describing the intricacies of red-hot two-on-one action, his tone is about the same as a guy describing his friend’s marble counter tops.

Sobin is less of a down-market Hugh Hefner than a poor man’s Donald Trump, sharing the developer’s lust for self-promotion. Over the years, he funneled his smutty fortune into mayoral runs, guerilla campaigns against vice cops, and a series of low-budget local porno publications that were about the dirtiest things you could find in those pre-Internet days. Post-prison, he’s still self-promoting. He ran for mayor this summer, though he dropped out in July. In conversations, he still steers everything back to his prison art gallery, his guitar classes, and his political platform. And all I wanted to talk about was ’80s sleaze.

In fact, things are going reasonably well for Sobin. He lives in elder housing in Foggy Bottom on 23rd Street NW. The small apartment is better than the homeless shelter where he lived after his release, according to parole records. His girlfriend lives down the hall—close enough to make him coffee, but not so close as to limit his independence.

Behind Sobin is the trampoline he uses as a bed. Outside his window is the Kennedy Center, home to so much of his current scheming for rehabilitation: Sobin, it seems, has written a play, and it has somehow been accepted at the arts palace’s annual festival of new productions. It’s a musical. Naturally, it concerns a libertarian activist who overcomes his son’s machinations, becomes mayor, reconciles with his tormentors, and lives happily ever after.

Post-prison life has its humiliations, too. Sobin is registered with the District’s sex offender database; his mug shot and address are available online to any worried parent or old enemy. He says he only sees prostitutes as a customer now. In the lobby of his building, residents must sign in every 24 hours to prove they haven’t died. Sobin’s once thick, dark mustache has dispersed itself into a patchy salt-and-pepper beard. His busted nose now just makes him look beaten down.

But the worst humiliation of all remains Sobin’s unending war with his son. There was a restraining order against him before he even left prison. He can’t go to Darrin’s place of work, which may or may not have had something to do with his latest mayoral run. Because Darrin works in the office of D.C.’s attorney general—located in the Wilson Building—the old man would have been banned from his own office had he won, setting up the sort of legal battle Sobin relishes.

Our Readers Say

A very interesting story about a very dillusional man.
Little Ellen and Justin Pohorylo (not their real names, I don't think) were innocent casualties left behind in Dennis Sobin and Jon Kemp's wake, but, as City Paper's coverage demonstrates, not the only ones. Dennis, in his career as libertine and gadabout, seemed intent on fulfilling the second of John Lennon's triumvirate of “keeping them doped with religion, sex and TV.”

My moist poignant memory is of tying Justin's shoelaces one day, upon which he thanked me, neatly countering my anticipated little boy objection. I wanted to scoop him and his sister up in my arms then and there, getting them both as far away as possible. Had I known what was in store for them, I would have done my best to do so. I was told that the Florida visit was to take them to Disneyland.

I don't say that Dennis intended from the beginning to profit from them as subjects for child porn, but I could easily see where he could delude himself into such an outcome. I'm sure he didn't exercise forms of corporal punishment, as he always seemed pretty gentle, but they were always dirty looking, and he didn't seem to mind what he exposed them to.

It can at least be said of Mr. Kemp that he was a “better angel” to Dennis, using part of the 1518 K Street location to handle outcalls in a manner humane to the workers, until building management evicted us from there.
You should not have placed the Pohrylo name out there.
J and L probably have PTSD concerning some of the events that happened during that time... E, their mother, was a drug addict with many problems of her own. Everyone involved in the business at the time was stealing from it in one form or another. It made for very crazy times.
The child porn thing was trumped up but the craziness surrounding everything else was real. Jon Kemp was a tool. I remember him being much of a player, just a pawn/front/beard for a lot of activity. Dennis was the only real player in his gang of misfits.
Correction:

I meant to say I DON'T REMEMBER JON KEMP AS BEING MUCH OF A PLAYER.

I don't have the feeling Dennis ever abused them in the way it came off in the case against him. However, his lifestyle is so contradictory to mainstream ways that he will always have a problem... and those around him, especially will be affected.
He is a very persuasive person. He appeals to your common sense about what it right and wrong but somehow the outcome is not as anticipated.
He is a survivor.
Darrin has always been uptight. It always seemed he had problems working with the crew. He carried a lot of the burden for both Dennis and Paulette from a very young age. I remember speaking to him about his arrest when he was caught watering some marijuana plants and thinking how square he was because he had absolutely no interest in the underground life. I really thought he was the straightest teenager I met and couldn't imagine how he was Dennis' son. The interactions between the two were always quite interesting to observe.
The biggest tool in Dennis' gang was, in my opinion, Bob Sorkin. If you want a story, look that jackass up and see what kind of nonsense he has been up to these days. You may also want to ask Dennis about OPERATION EASY RIDER.
Those two kids (Justin and Little Ellen....not their real names) were hellions but they were not raised in your typical American lifestyle. Justin is married now and has three kids. Little Ellen has at least one kid. I can't recall if she is married or not... Both of them are trying to have normal lives. I sincerfely hope all works wout well.
Aprial how did you know them?
Hey Jesse. I knew someone who baby sat for you and Lynnie... Remember the old lady who minded the "toystore" Dennis had down in Chinatown DC? She was an acquaintance of my aunt. She got the job at the "toystore" because she used to babysit you and Lynnie.
I don't think it was really a toystore but it had a few toys in it ... toys like a jeep you could actually ride in. I think it was front for something else because no one ever brought anything there. I believe the building it was in now is a jewelry store of some sorts. It is/was on H St about a1/2block or block from the Chinese Gateway at the main intersection of Chinatown.
Лен, привет ) Как говорит моя мама, воспитавшая 5х детей и помогающая мне сейчас с Сонишной: дети достаются легко только дуракам ) Так что Вообще, дети разные и родители тоже. Меня Соня будила по ночам только до 2х месяцев и всегда даже в очень маленьком возрасте умела занять себя сама играть, читать No problem. Так что, в утешение всем переживающим в этом блоге а-ля неужели нас тоже такое ждет? : это по сути лотерея (и отчасти вопрос воспитания), но вас точно ждет уникальный и незабываемый во всех смыслах опыт ). Дети цветы!!!
Journalist Rick Janisch (who had recently lost his job when the Washington Tribune went out of business in 1985) briefly worked for Sobin's various enterprises in 1986 and 1987, but had second thoughts after discovering Sobin allegedly employed underage runaways as dancers in his clubs and perhaps as prostitutes. Janisch allegedly reported Sobin to the police but on the night of June 25, 1987 Janisch was run over by dark mid-size car as he crossed Piney Branch Road near Dale Drive in Silver Spring. Janisch, who resided at 8301 Garland Ave., Takoma Park, was pronounced dead at Washington Adventist Hospital at about 11 PM. While Rick's friends and loved ones told police that Sobin should be considered a person of interest in Janisch's death, police in Montgomery County, Md. were never able to link Sobin with the crime. Without Janisch to testify the case of alleged child prostitution against Sobin apparently collapsed. I'm posting this here in hopes that the next time somebody writes a story about Sobin they'll mention this.
Fake Name... happy to see people are weighing in on this mix. I worked witk Mr. Sobin during this period and never met or even heard of Rick Janisch. I do know Dennis was into a lot of different things but underage children working at his clubs as dancers is something I never heard about. What clubs were these?
At that time, the closest thing he had to a "club" was a sauna/massage parlor on Capitol Hill that he took over from some loser. It closed as soon as it opened up because of problems the previous owner had with the lease. During this time, Dennis had moved away from club ownership and escort services to mainly instant toll call enterprises. I do remember a young pregnant teenager whose boyfriend (older but also younger) appeared to be on the run from crazed chicken hawk pimps crashing at a building Dennis rented in Chinatown. The story about Janisch seems to me to be a bit farfetched. I am not claiming to know everything that happened in the enterprise but I would think I'd know someone who worked for us, especially if it was in a role you describe in your post.
Some wild and crazy peoples. Jon Kemp was a flunkie and a bad one at that. Prissy Williams-Godfrey was an uncontrollable loud mouth cocaine dealing pain in the ass. Jackie Tessmer was a fat slob who made a porno film with Dennis... Dennis being a key player in the film. A lot of cheese being thrown in the mix. Man, those were the days. I used to go to Catholic high school with Darrin in DC. This is some cray shit to see it here on the internets. BLACK CHICKS RULE!
BTW... no one ever heard of the jackass Rick Janisch. When was he on the scene. This is some bull crap. No one heard of this guy. Was he associated with Brad Woodward or that scumbucket Bob Sorkin? This is totally outrageous. FAKE NAME! Reveal yourself!
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