Musician Charles Cohen Pleads No Contest in Child Sex Crimes Case

The Rittenhouse Square resident, named a Pew Fellow in 2011, awaits sentencing.

Left: Charles Cohen in a mugshot photo released by the Montgomery County District Attorney's office. Right: Cohen at WXPN studios during a 2015 interview. (Photo via YouTube)

Left: Charles Cohen in a mugshot photo released by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office. Right: Cohen at WXPN studios during a 2015 interview. | Photo via YouTube

Eleven months after he was arrested in connection with a child sex crimes sting, prominent Philadelphia musician Charles Cohen has entered a no-contest plea in the case.

On Friday in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, Cohen entered a nolo contendere — or no contest — plea to unlawful contact with a minor, criminal use of a communication facility, and criminal attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with person under the age of 16.

In the eyes of the law, a person entering such a plea is guilty, but the plea itself is not an admission of guilt, the literal meaning being, “I do not wish to contend.” He is awaiting sentencing.

“Due to my client’s health struggles and current ambulatory issues, we decided that fighting these charges would be too stressful for him to endure,” says Scott Harper, Cohen’s attorney. “We have maintained all along that we have a strong entrapment defense to the charges.”

Cohen, 70, is a well-known name in experimental music circles throughout the world thanks to his mastery of a unique synthesizer called the Buchla Music Easel, which dates back to the early 1960s. He performed throughout the world. In 2011, the Rittenhouse Square resident was awarded the prestigious Pew Fellowship for his work. Two years later, he was featured on the cover of the City Paper. In a review of his 2015 album Brother I Prove You Wrong, Pitchfork called Cohen a “proper virtuoso.” Many have called him a musical genius.

Cohen was arrested in September 2015 as the result of an undercover sting operation, according to officials. Police said he placed a personal ad on Craigslist searching for a “skinny smooth versatile white guy” for sex and received a response from someone claiming to be a 14-year-old boy. Alas, that “boy” was actually an undercover detective.

Eventually, the detective agreed to meet Cohen for oral sex, and a daytime meeting was set for a shopping center parking lot in Montgomery County, police said. When Cohen showed up for the meeting at the agreed-upon time and place, he was promptly arrested. Police allegedly recovered a cell phone from Cohen that showed the last message sent by the undercover detective.

In June, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele honored the undercover detective responsible for Cohen’s arrest.

“I’m speechless,” one Cohen collaborator from Philadelphia told us when we asked him about the arrest. “But not shocked.”

Cohen, who is free on $100,000 bail, has not performed publicly since his arrest. A European tour scheduled for last fall was cancelled.

He could face significant jail time. Two of the charges against Cohen are first-degree felonies, each carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

“It’s a shame that law enforcement chooses to badger and trick my elderly client into communicating in a way that he never intended,” Harper told us. “Fooling, tricking and scamming elderly people over the Internet is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s my opinion — and not necessarily my client’s — that the cop’s behavior was more reprehensible than the charges he filed against my client. I’m sure Montgomery County has a backlog of child abuse investigations concerning real children and instead of focusing on the real abusers and real victims, they have decided to devote their limited resources to entrapping people with fake victims.”

Steele, the Montgomery County District Attorney, was not immediately available to respond.

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