WILKES-BARRE — Christopher Shenyo was remodeling his tenant’s bathroom when her image flashed into his mind.
It was at that moment, he said in court Friday, he decided to plant the hidden camera that would capture the Hazleton mother and her two teenage children at their most intimate.
The idea, one Shenyo said was fueled by addiction, cost the Schuylkill County landlord nine to 23 months in prison in a case a county judge said was a first in his career on the bench.
Shenyo, 41, of Sheppton, admitted in October to installing three hidden cameras inside the East Beech Street apartment he rented to the victim and her two children, then ages 12 and 14, including one in the ceiling tiles above the toilet and another underneath a cabinet that faced the commode and shower. The third was placed in an adjacent closet.
The mother, whose age was not disclosed, told investigators she called police after she was sitting on the toilet in November 2015 and noticed a black cable sticking out from underneath a cabinet. She hesitated to report it, she told investigators at the time, because she “did not want to believe that her landlord would have placed a camera in her bathroom.”
The mother, who the Times Leader Media Group is not identifying because the images were of a sexual nature, fought back tears as she described the invasion of privacy she and her family endured from Shenyo.
“With all my heart, I wish that you repent for what you did to us,” she said through a translator.
The victim said she’s still raising her children in the apartment because she has nowhere else to go. It’s “the worst place, but the best place,” because she has neighbors who look out for her and her children, she said. She questioned why Shenyo would victimize them, saying she was a good tenant who always paid her rent on time and “never did anything to make you hurt us this way.”
“I hope you don’t ever do this again to nobody, especially kids, because they don’t deserve this kind of treatment,” she said.
Shenyo was facing Judge Michael T. Vough as he began to issue an apology, but was quickly cut off.
“Tell her,” the judge said, gesturing toward the mother. “Don’t tell me.”
Shenyo turned and faced the woman, surrounded by her children, and apologized for the pain he caused them, adding it was “totally against my belief system.” In therapy following his arrest, he said, he sought to get to the root of what caused his pornography addiction to “change to an act like this.”
It was when Shenyo was remodeling the bathroom, “trying to make the place better,” that an image of the victim popped into his head, he said.
“That’s how I got the idea to put up the camera,” he said.
He added: “Addiction did cause me to so something absolutely horrible.”
Investigators discovered the camera, placed under a sink and pointed toward the toilet and shower, had recorded the mother as well as her 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter as they were nude, according to the affidavit. The mother said Shenyo frequently entered the apartment without notice.
Defense attorney Joseph R. D’Andrea urged Vough to consider a mitigated sentence, arguing Shenyo was an addict who made a mistake when he acted on his voyeuristic urges, but was cooperative and forthcoming since the onset of the investigation and has since undergone treatment for his addiction.
“He’s made not only strides, but extraordinary strides to take care of a problem,” D’Andrea said.
Vough, however, said it wasn’t unusual for someone to seek treatment after their arrest.
“That’s an educated person,” Vough said. “Don’t you think he knew he had a problem well before he did this?”
D’Andrea said it sometimes “takes hitting rock bottom” for a person to face their problems.
“Chris has done a really good job trying to rehabilitate his life,” D’Andrea said.
Shenyo told investigators he also installed an electronic tablet in the ceiling tiles above the toilet, which took still images and was connected to a neighbor’s wireless Internet router, the affidavit says. The motion-activated tablet sent still pictures to Shenyo’s email and he viewed them on his cell phone, according to the affidavit.
Shenyo added he set up a cell phone in the bathroom closet with similar intentions, but the device was only there for a day.
Vough, a longtime prosecutor before becoming judge in 2012, said he sees people come before him day after day who commit crimes he “can’t believe someone would do,” but Shenyo was something else.
“Looking at your background, where you were, the family you had, I see someone like you do something like this and it’s another first in my career,” he said.
“There’s got to be a punishment,” the judge added. “You know that.”
Vough noted he had the discretion to send Shenyo to state prison if he saw fit.
“Is state prison something you need to do?” he asked. “I don’t think so, but you’re not walking out of here today either.”
Sheriff’s deputies shackled and handcuffed Shenyo before leading him out of the courthouse to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. The victim and her children watched as Shenyo was escorted out a rear exit and into a vehicle for transport.
Shenyo, who pleaded guilty to felony counts of criminal use a communication facility and photographing a computer sex act in October, will serve three years probation following his sentence and must register with the Pennsylvania State Police for 25 years as a sexual offender, Vough ordered. A third party will handle the victim’s rent and other details regarding the apartment.
After the hearing, Luzerne County Detective Chaz Balogh cautioned tenants to be vigilant of their landlord’s presence.
“Just be careful of who is coming in and out of your house,” Balogh said. “Your landlord should be notifying you he’s coming to the house and if they are, try to be there. Unfortunately in this case, he would show up at times when they weren’t home.”