From all appearances, Chuck Nabit was a gregarious family man and successful financier, a multimillionaire patron of the arts who gave to museums and schools, posed on red carpets, and maintained a distinctive flair with his many shoes and colorful shirts.
Behind closed doors, however, the well-known Baltimore businessman lorded his wealth and power over young, drug-addicted women, paying them for sex, filming them despite their protests, and, as prosecutors contended, leaving them “dehumanized.”
Nabit manipulated adult sex workers to do his bidding with payments of $50, $40, $35 — small amounts cast about like breadcrumbs, coaxing them to perform sex acts on his GoPro cameras or to send a degrading bathroom video just for kicks, federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo to the judge.
They spared no detail in presenting the 66-year-old as a man of depravity for his sentencing hearing Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Nabit pleaded guilty five months ago to one charge of transporting a prostitute, and federal guidelines would have put him behind bars 12 to 18 months.
Prosecutors broke from routine to ask for a tougher term of three years; Nabit’s defense attorneys asked for no more than six months.
U.S. District Judge George Levi Russell III settled on 18 months, the stiffest penalty within the guidelines.
“He led a double life,” the judge said. “There were prostitutes and women who were definitely demeaned and dehumanized.”
Russell fined Nabit $55,000 and ordered the father of two to surrender Jan. 18 to begin his prison term after the holidays. In an agreement with prosecutors, Nabit paid $150,000 into a trust for the women he victimized. Court records put his wealth at $41 million.
“Mr. Nabit is, in this court’s opinion, not a monster. He’s a very troubled man who did bad things and hurt a lot of people,” the judge said. “He did a lot of good, too.”
The hearing concluded a dramatic downfall for the businessman. His alma mater, Sewanee: The University of the South, yanked his name from the campus arts building.
A husband and father of two teenagers, Nabit built his career in health care, restaurants, commercial real estate and then private equity. He’s owned stakes in Mountain Manor Treatment Center in Baltimore for people addicted to drugs and alcohol. He owned the old Fells Point restaurant Waterfront Kitchen, which he renamed Ampersea three years ago.
Nabit has long been a fixture in Baltimore society. He threw Christmas parties at his historic Roland Park mansion. He owns vacation homes in Bethany Beach and outside Boca Raton, Florida. He served on the boards of the B&O Railroad Museum, the Hippodrome Foundation, the Walters Art Museum and the Calvert School. His nonprofit, the Nabit Foundation, has donated more than $5 million, according to court records.
Now, he’s had to resign from the boards and sell his business interests, he told the court Monday. He said he feels humbled and humiliated. Nabit apologized to the court, his victims, his family and the community.
“I am truly sorry for the pain and suffering the women have experienced,” he said.
The case exposed the sex sold in backrooms of strip clubs on downtown Baltimore’s The Block. Nabit’s attorneys wrote that four of his victims worked as exotic dancers but also had commercial sex with men in the bars. The bars maintained rooms for use by sex workers.
That’s where Nabit met the women, and would have his trysts a short walk away at his office on Commerce Street after hours, prosecutors said.
Since August 2018, he paid the women and an alleged pimp at least $90,000 for sex, prosecutors wrote in court documents. They submitted hundreds of text messages in which he humiliated the women and coaxed them to do his bidding with money for drugs. The women pleaded for money to buy drugs or just a hot meal. He admitted to providing at least one woman a line of cocaine. He toyed with them, too, prosecutors wrote.
“The defendant specifically preyed on lower class females with drug addictions and other vulnerabilities,” they wrote. “The defendant’s manipulative and malevolent conduct is further demonstrated by his repeated payments of just a single dollar at a time to several of the victims until they met his demands.”
One of his victims wrote to the judge to say she suffers panic attacks and nightmares, fears men, and struggles to leave her bedroom. She described Nabit as a man who would erupt if he didn’t receive the attention or sexual favors he wanted.
Last year, federal agents raided Nabit’s office at his investment firm Westport Group LLC. According to court records, agents found a big couch that converted to a bed; there was a sheet on the bed, five GoPro cameras, and sex toys in his desk. Agents found a cache of videos and photos Nabit recorded of himself having sex with the women.
Prosecutors charged him under the Mann Act, a 100-year-old federal law intended today to prosecute the human traffickers who cross state lines to pimp out women. He traveled with the sex workers as his escorts and companions, even paying one woman $30,000 to $40,000 over the year, his attorney, Steven Allen said.
Still, the defense attorney argued Nabit should have been prosecuted as a commercial sex customer, a “John,” not as a human trafficker, which carries tougher penalties. Allen told the court that he researched and found no other case of the charge being brought against a man who hired and traveled with a woman as his escort and sexual companion.
“It’s a two-way street,” Allen told the court. “He was their sugar daddy; they were the women who wanted the money.”
In the 15 months since his arrest, Nabit has spent more than $100,000 in 400 hours of psychotherapy and marriage counseling as he tries to save his marriage and understand the compulsions that led him to paper his briefcase with the names and phones numbers of sex workers, his attorney said.
His psychiatrist, Dr. Stacy Chris Kraft, told the court that Nabit suffered obsessive-compulsive tendencies, low self-esteem and sex addiction. He always struggled with intimate relationships with women and didn’t marry until age 48. He was a lonely man in an unhappy marriage who found gratification in the attention of women on The Block.
“He had these sort of fantasy relationships in his head with these women,” the doctor told the court. “He perceived them like they were girlfriends.”
His wife wrote the judge a letter asking for mercy. Mary Kay Nabit wrote of the pain and embarrassment his “addictive behaviors” caused her and their two children, and of his work to repair the wounds with therapy and church counseling. He always had been a devoted father, she told the judge.
“Our biggest concern is our children’s well-being,” she wrote. “It is heartbreaking to think that their good character could be tarnished due to their father’s mistakes. Chuck’s going to jail would only make the situation worse for our children.”
Lamont Cousins, who spent 15 years in prison for murder and drug charges, told the judge Nabit gave him a job in the old Waterfront Kitchen in Fells Point. Cousins rose to become the general manager of the restaurant today.
“People in my cases, they don’t even get second chances in life,” Cousins said. “I would hate to see, if I didn’t meet Mr. Nabit, where I’d be right now.”
The hearing went on at least four hours, with attorneys arguing over his conduct. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Setzer repeated a particularly graphic joke that he made to one addicted sex worker on a GoPro video.
Nabit told the woman he would have sex with her dead body because he did not “want a warm corpse to go to waste,” Setzer told the court.
To federal prosecutors, his words were evidence of depravity; to his attorneys, of a gallows humor that belied the emotional connection he felt for the women. Two years later, the same woman was dead of a drug overdose.
According to court filings, Nabit kept a copy of her obituary in his office and sent money to her mother.