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License of Massage Therapist Permanently Revoked for Inappropriate Sexual Contact with a Client in Pennington

By rlsmetro on
Pennington

Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that the New Jersey Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy ("the Board") has permanently revoked the license of a massage therapist who touched a female client inappropriately during a massage session at Renewed Spa in Pennington.

Under a Final Order filed today, Asmar R. Berry, 43, of Trenton, is permanently barred from working as a massage therapist in New Jersey after the Board found that he violated multiple rules and regulations governing the practice of massage therapy when he had sexual contact with a client during a massage session in 2018.

According to the Attorney General's office, Berry was originally charged with five criminal counts for allegedly exposing and touching a female client inappropriately, including digitally penetrating the client, during a massage therapy session, but was acquitted of all criminal charges after his attorney argued that the sexual contact was consensual but also conceded that his client violated his duty as a massage therapist.

After reviewing the facts, the Board concluded that Berry violated the Board's sexual misconduct regulations, for which consent is not a defense. 

The Board further found that, in addition to other violations, Berry's actions constituted gross negligence, malpractice, incompetence and professional misconduct, warranting a permanent revocation of his license to practice massage and bodywork therapy in New Jersey.

"Engaging in sexual contact with clients is a serious violation of professional boundaries and an abuse of client trust that comes with serious consequences," said Acting Attorney General Bruck. 

"The outcome, in this case, should make it clear that we will not tolerate that type of unacceptable behavior from a massage therapist or any other licensed professional who tries to take advantage of their position for personal gratification."

According to the Attorney General's office, in April, the Office of the Attorney General, in AG Administrative Directive 2021-3, unveiled sweeping reforms to address the problem of sexual abuse and misconduct among individuals licensed by the 51 professional and occupational boards and committees under the administrative oversight of the Division of Consumer Affairs. 

Those licensees, some 720,000 in all, include physicians, nurses, psychologists, drug and alcohol counselors, and massage therapists.

The Directive grew out of the Division's yearlong comprehensive review announced in February 2020 and called on the Division to work with the professional boards and committees to initiate specific changes and adopt best practices to address the problem of sexual misconduct through prevention, accountability, and victim support.

"While the majority of massage therapists conduct themselves professionally and follow strict standards, we are glad that the Board is holding this individual accountable for his actions," said Sean P. Neafsey, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. 

"Public safety comes first, and we will continue to work with every professional to ensure sexual misconduct allegations are addressed and handled appropriately."

The Board permanently revoked Berry's license to practice massage therapy in New Jersey, with no ability to reapply, effective September 28, 2021. 

Additionally, Berry has been assessed a $9,176.44 penalty to cover attorney's fees and investigative costs.

According to the Attorney General's office, Berry's license has been suspended since November 2018, when he entered into a Consent Order and agreed to the temporary suspension of his license until the conclusion of all criminal proceedings and further Order of the Board.

Berry is the second massage therapist this year to have his license permanently revoked as a result of sexual misconduct in the workplace. 

Since the last enforcement actions for sexual misconduct were announced in August 2021, the Board has denied licensure to an individual who allegedly touched a client inappropriately while working as a massage therapist without a license, accepted the permanent retirement of another licensee, and temporarily suspended the license of a massage therapist who was criminally charged with sexual misconduct. 

They are:

  • Gary Morrisey – License temporarily suspended on November, pending the disposition of criminal charges for alleged sexual assault and criminal sexual conduct with a female client during a massage therapy session.
  • Steffon Davis – License application denied on October, with no right to reapply, for practicing without a license and allegedly touching a client inappropriately during a massage therapy session at a Massage Envy in Mays Landing.
  • Doudi A. Zaki – License voluntarily surrendered and deemed to be on permanent retirement, as of August, for allegedly engaging in inappropriate conduct with a female client during massage therapy sessions at a Massage Envy located in Short Hills.

In addition to taking disciplinary action against licensees for alleged sexual contact with clients, in November 2019, the Board adopted new rules to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct in the massage therapy industry. 

In November 2020, the Division instituted a new protocol for boards' consideration of license reinstatement requests from individuals whose authority to practice was previously discontinued. 

This protocol promotes transparency around reinstatement requests and helps to ensure that victims and those charged with advocating on behalf of the public have a voice in the reinstatement process.