Massage Envy sex abuse allegations have Clearwater connection

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Allegations of widespread sex abuse at Massage Envy franchises across the nation have a connection to at least one notorious case in the Tampa Bay area.

In 2012, a visitor from New York told police that massage therapist Ronald Bruinius assaulted her during a visit to Massage Envy’s Clearwater franchise at 2516 N. McMullen Booth Road.

Pinellas County prosecutors eventually dropped that case without charging Bruinius but later convicted him for assaulting two other women at an unaffiliated massage business he later ran on his own in Seminole. Bruinius is now serving a five-year prison term for those later two assaults. He is due for release next March.

After Pinellas County prosecutors dropped the 2012 Massage Envy case, that victim filed a “Jane Doe” lawsuit against Massage Envy that dragged on for two years before it was finally settled out of court last year under confidential terms.

That lawsuit alleged that many of the things that are now at the center of the Buzzfeed investigation. The suit estimated that sex allegations were so widespread among Massage Envy franchises nationwide that one complaint landed at corporate headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, every 20 days.

It included exhibits from lawsuits and news articles documenting sexual misconduct at Massage Envy franchises in Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and Washington State.

It also alleged that Massage Envy had a policy of trying to keep complaints of sexual misconduct quiet, handling investigations in house and notifying law enforcement when such complaints occurred.

The attorney who litigated that action for “Jane Doe” told me the Buzzfeed investigation reflects much of what he discovered during the lawsuit. “It’s not surprising at all because Massage Envy operates under a shroud of secrecy,” said Tampa lawyer Joseph Alvarez.

Local Massage Envy franchises—including the one that Bruinius once worked at in Clearwater—declined comment and referred all questions to the company’s corporate headquarters in Scottsdale. Massage Envy released the following statement in response to our questions about the Buzzfeed investigation:

“Each of these incidents is heartbreaking for us and for the franchisees that operate Massage Envy locations, and we will never stop looking for ways to help our franchisees provide a safe environment at Massage Envy franchise locations. The article references 180 reported incidents.  These occurred over a span of 15 plus years and 125 million massages.  But we believe that even ONE incident is too many, so we are constantly listening, learning, and evaluating how we can continue to strengthen our policies with respect to handling of these issues.”

Massage Envy said it does not routinely notify law enforcement about sex assault complaints out of respect for its clients’ choice to do so, or not.

Alvarez says the settlement’s confidentiality agreement limits what he can say about Massage Envy but told 8 On Your Side, “There’s ways they could protect the consumer they’ve yet to incorporate.”

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