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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One August night in 1988, Bernard Emert, a plainclothes officer with the Metropolitan Police Department, pulled up to 1518 K St NW. A suite in the building housed the Washington Center for Better Living, which purported to be a prostitution-research facility.

Actual researchers would have found a lot of material at the center. Tenants in the building periodically found used condoms in stairwells. An earlier police tour of the facility had found nearly nothing in the office besides mattresses and trash cans that brimmed with condoms and wadded-up paper towels.

A woman named Holly Thompson approached Emert and asked if he was “dating.” They agreed on $50 for two sex acts—court documents don’t specify which—and she led him upstairs. Sitting at a desk in front was Dennis Sobin, who demanded another $10 for use of one of the center’s rooms.

Thompson led Emert into a room and began undressing. When Emert said he was a cop, Thompson cried out, “Dennis, Dennis, Dennis, this man says he’s the police!” Sobin and Thompson were arrested. Sobin received a $500 fine and 180 days in jail for operating a disorderly house.

This was the harshest sentence Sobin received in his first eight years as Washington’s most prolific—and most public—sex entrepreneur. It’s surprising that he hadn’t gotten busted more often. The Washington Center for Better Living embodied the Sobin ethos—why be discreet when you can be outrageous?

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Sobin says he never intended to become what one Washington Post writer dubbed “the J.P. Morgan of the grope set.” He began the 1970s in New York, a married sociologist with two young sons. He’d only had sex with his wife Paulette, who he’d been dating since he was 15. Sobin says he didn’t even know women could have orgasms.

When his marriage began to disintegrate, however, Sobin entered New York’s swingers’ scene. Alas, even 1970s New York didn’t offer the freedom he craved: police arrested Sobin in 1972 for dancing with nude women at a club. Opposing government-enforced prudery became his guiding philosophy. Sobin says he moved to Washington right before the 1976 Bicentennial to be a libertarian activist.

In D.C., Sobin began publishing Free Spirit, the first of many publications he used to advance his politics: gay rights, legalized drugs and prostitution. Among other things, he ran sketches of vice cops who appeared to testify in court so cruising gay men and prostitutes could avoid them. But mainly, Sobin’s publications advanced Dennis Sobin, making him a local celebrity, of sorts.

Sobin put his words about sexual liberation into action in 1979 when he began running a sex club out of his home on N Street SE near where Nationals Park stands today. According to the testimony of undercover officers who infiltrated the establishment, visitors to the Playground Swing Club were met by Sobin or one of his associates at the front door. Admission required $15 per couple and a first name signature on a contract, which was then torn up and thrown away. Outfitted in robes provided by the club, they could then dance, watch porn on a LaserDisc player, or have sex in the “Fantasy Room.”

Police raiding the club came away with several couples on charges of oral sodomy. Sobin told reporters that the cops also briefly took possession of his own “double king size” mattress.

Beyond his club, Sobin began taking over escort services and massage parlors whose owners had been indicted or evicted. You’d think the repeated police investigations would have made Sobin want to obscure details about the money they made. But Sobin blabbed away in The Washington Post, estimating that two neighboring massage parlors made $500,000 a year. In 1987, he boasted to the newspaper that his sex business grossed $3 million dollars yearly, most of that profit.

Sometimes, Sobin earned that money with his own body. He once had sex with another activist prostitute at a bachelor party for $300. He also began producing and acting in porn movies. In one, The Last Condom, Sobin plays a hapless convention-goer who picks up a prostitute. As she waits in his hotel room, he fiddles in the bathroom with protection. Unfortunately for Sobin’s character, the rubbers can talk. “Will you look at this guy?” sneers one condom.

While Sobin diversified his sex business, the rest of family got in on the action, too. Paulette, who had been living in Hawaii with her two sons, Darrin and Teague, moved to Washington, Sobin says, after Sobin made it a condition for his sending child support money. At his urging, according to Sobin, she started her own escort business. Paulette’s success inspired Sobin to work even harder.

“Even her operation could be improved upon,” Sobin says.

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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