A Silver Springs, Maryland massage therapist who performed oral sex on one female client and touched the genital areas of two others without permission, according to a WUSA report, pleaded guilty today in Superior Court for the District of Columbia.
Habtamu Gebreslassie, 24, admitted he had committed first-degree sexual abuse of a patient or client, attempted first-degree sexual abuse of a patient or client, and misdemeanor sexual abuse.
The three crimes were committed while Gebreslassie was working at two Massage Envy parlors and DeLuca Massage Parlor, all in Washington, D. C. One of the victims filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Massage Envy, claiming the company covered up Gebreslassie’s criminal activity.
The plea agreement was reached when a fourth felony charge against Gebreslassie was dropped, and the possibility of up to 15 years in prison was reduced to a sentence range of 18 months to five years. Gebreslassie’s sentencing is scheduled for February 16.
The Gebrelassie assaults are allegedly just the tip of the iceberg as far as Massage Envy is concerned. A November 26 Buzzfeed investigative report indicated more than 180 sexual assault allegations had been leveled against Massage Envy therapists through police reports, lawsuits, and complaints to state boards.
Massage Envy’s general counsel, Melanie Hansen, told Buzzfeed the company had created the massage industry’s “most stringent, rigorous policies” for hiring, screening, and training its therapists.
The Buzzfeed investigation uncovered some problems with Massage Envy’s system, however, including the ignoring of customer complaints in some instances if they were made over the phone. Company policy required the complaints be made in person at the same location where the violations were allegedly committed.
The company also maintained its distance from the allegations, claiming that since the Massage Envy parlors were operated by franchisees, the responsibility was theirs.
Former Massage Envy clients who are suing the company are not buying into that claim, noting that the franchisees are all required to follow training procedures and operational standards provided to them by the company.
At this point, Massage Envy franchising has never had to answer any of the allegations in court, but that may change when a lawsuit filed by Susan Ingram, West Chester, Pennsylvania, goes to trial in 2018.
Ingram’s lawsuit claims a Massage Envy therapist rubbed his erect penis against her, fondled her breasts, and put his fingers in her vagina.
James Deiter, the massage therapist in that session, later pleaded guilty to assaulting nine women in the same fashion.