NEWARK – Furthering its efforts to protect the public from sexual misconduct and abuse in professional settings, the Division of Consumer Affairs (“the Division”) today announced that the New Jersey Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy (“the Board”) has permanently revoked the license of a massage therapist who engaged in inappropriate and unwanted sexual contact with a female client during a massage session at a Hand and Stone spa in Somers Point.
John R. Popper, 48, of Little Egg Harbor is permanently barred from working as a massage therapist in New Jersey under a Final Order filed by the Board this week. Popper is the third massage therapist this year — and the ninth in the last 12 months — to have his license revoked by the Board as a result of sexual misconduct in the workplace.
Concerns about unwanted sexual contact in professional settings have prompted the Division, under the direction of Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, to undertake a sweeping review of how its 51 professional boards address allegations involving sexual misconduct and abuse by its licensees and applicants to ensure that boards uniformly adopt best practices and enforce their rules.
The boards oversee approximately 720,000 active licensed professionals, from accountants and doctors to plumbers, veterinarians, and massage therapists.
The review, which is currently underway, is evaluating how boards screen applicants for licenses, approach investigations of alleged misconduct and discipline and engage with complainants who report abuses by a licensee or applicant.
“No client or patient should ever have to fear for their personal safety while interacting with a licensed professional in this state,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We are committed to ensuring that all our professional boards hold licensees to the same strict standards, and act swiftly to address allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse involving licensees. By revoking the licenses of massage therapists who prey on their clients, the Board is carrying out its duty to protect the public.”
“When you see a massage therapist you put your trust in their hands,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Therapists who violate that trust can cause real and long-lasting damage to their victims and are a danger to our community. We are pleased that the Board, through its actions, is sending a message that this kind of conduct will not be tolerated.”
Popper is the latest massage therapist disciplined for inappropriately touching a client.
On July 31, 2020, the Board voted unanimously to permanently revoke Popper’s license, effective immediately, after Popper was criminally convicted of harassment by offensive touching in Somers Point Municipal Court for placing his hand on a client’s vagina during a massage. Popper was originally charged with criminal sexual contact but the charge was downgraded to harassment, a disorderly persons offense, and remanded to municipal court. The Board accepted the State’s argument that Popper’s license should be revoked on the grounds that, among other things, he engaged in professional misconduct and committed a crime of moral turpitude.
In a Final Order filed on Aug. 25, 2020, the Board concluded that Popper’s conduct was “so egregious and morally reprehensible, and so fundamentally at odds with anything that we would expect of a massage therapist that nothing short of permanent revocation would be sufficient to protect the public health, safety and welfare.”
Since July 2019, the Board has revoked the licenses of eight other massage therapists for sexual misconduct. They are:
- Asad Aliyev – License permanently revoked on July 25, 2020, for allegedly touching a female client inappropriately during a massage therapy session at a Hand and Stone spa in Allendale.
- Aaron Coile – License revoked on January 28, 2020, for allegedly inappropriately touching a female client during a massage therapy session at the Sage Body and Mind spa in Voorhees.
- Premkumar Perumal – License permanently revoked on October 22, 2019, for allegedly touching a female client inappropriately during a massage therapy session at a Hand and Stone Massage & Facial Spa in Clark. Perumal also allegedly inappropriately touched another female client while working at a Massage Envy in Hoboken.
- Magdy Masek – License permanently revoked on October 22, 2019, for allegedly inappropriately touching a female client during a massage therapy session at a Massage Envy in Piscataway.
- Frank Giordano – License permanently revoked on September 24, 2019, for allegedly touching two female clients inappropriately during massage therapy sessions at Alternative Bodyworks in Nutley.
- Michael Egan – License permanently revoked on September 19, 2019, for allegedly inappropriately touching a female client during a massage therapy session at a Massage Envy in Closter.
- Leonardo Drittij – License permanently revoked on September 18, 2019, for allegedly touching a female client inappropriately, engaging in a conversation of an intimate sexual nature with her, and failing to drape her properly during a massage therapy session at a Massage Envy.
- Jonathan Higgins – License permanently revoked on July 16, 2019, for allegedly inappropriately touching a female client during a massage therapy session at a Hand and Stone Massage & Facial Spa in Brick.Higgins has been charged with sexual assault in connection with that alleged incident.
In addition to taking disciplinary action against licensees for alleged sexual contact with clients, the Board has adopted new rules to help prevent and detect sexual misconduct and abuse in the industry.
Those rules, among other things:
- Require massage therapists to notify the Board of criminal, civil, administrative, and employment actions against them. Every licensee is required to notify the Board within 10 days of action against the licensee by criminal authorities, including an arrest, indictment, or conviction; within 10 days of the licensee being named in a civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding involving misconduct relating to his or her practice; within 10 days of disciplinary action by any state licensing authority; and within 10 days of action against the licensee by an employer based on client care concerns.
- Require massage therapists to report misconduct by others. Every licensee is required to report any incident or series of incidents that the licensee believes may violate the applicable statutes and rules, including violations by other massage therapists of the rules relating to sexual misconduct. Additional reporting requirements apply if a licensee possesses information indicating that another licensee or healthcare professional presents an imminent danger to the public or any individual.
- Protect minors from abuse. For clients under the age of 18, licensees need to obtain written consent of the client’s parent or legal guardian before providing massage or bodywork services.For clients under the age of 16, the client’s parent or legal guardian would need to be in the room while the services are provided.
Investigators with the Enforcement Bureau within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted investigations in these cases. Deputy Attorney General Daniel Hewitt, of the Professional Boards Prosecution Section within the Division of Law, represented the State in the Popper matter. Deputy Attorney General Roman Guzik, of the Consumer Affairs Counseling Section within the Division of Law, represented the State in the other matters.
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.
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 its Office of Consumer Protection, Bureau of Securities, Charities Registration section, Office of Weights and Measures, and Legalized Games of Chance section.