December 22, 2021
TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Following recent reforms established to better protect the public from sexual misconduct and abuse in professional settings, 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, New Jersey, 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.
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.
The Board, after reviewing the facts, 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.”
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.
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 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 2021, 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 2021, 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 2021, 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. And, 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.
Deputy Attorney General Michelle Mikelberg, of the Professional Boards Prosecution Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group, represented the State in the Berry matter. Deputy Attorney General Roman Guzik, of the Consumer Affairs Counseling Section within the Division of Law, represented the State in the other matters. Investigators with the Enforcement Bureau within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted investigations in these cases.
Clients who believe that they have been treated by a licensed massage therapist in an inappropriate manner can file a complaint online by visiting the State Division of Consumer Affairs website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200 to receive a paper complaint form by mail.
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The mission of the Division of Consumer Affairs, within the Department of Law and Public Safety, is to protect the public from fraud, deceit, misrepresentation and professional misconduct in the sale of goods and services in New Jersey through education, advocacy, regulation and enforcement. The Division pursues its mission through its 51 professional and occupational boards that oversee 720,000 licensees in the state, its Regulated Business section that oversees 60,000 NJ registered businesses, as well as through its Office of Consumer Protection, Bureau of Securities, Charities Registration section, Office of Weights and Measures, and Legalized Games of Chance section.