WASHINGTON - A man who was accused by women of sexually assaulting them while he worked as a masseur at Massage Envy and Deluca Massage and Bodywork earlier this year pleaded guilty in court Thursday to charges in three of the cases.
24-year-old Habtamu Gebreslassie pleaded guilty to one count of first degree sex abuse of a patient or client from a September 17 incident at a Massage Envy in Tenleytown. He also pleaded guilty to one count of attempted first degree sex abuse of a patient or client from an August 28 incident at the same location. Gebreslassie also pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor sex abuse from a June 21 incident at Deluca Massage and Body Work in Dupont Circle.
Guilty plea from masseur accused of sex assault / attempted sex assault of clients in 3 cases. 2 @MassageEnvy, 1 at Deluca Massage & Bodywork. Could get up to 5 yrs. @fox5dc pic.twitter.com/dt8ymdD9TK— Melanie Alnwick (@fox5melanie) December 14, 2017
As part of the plea agreement, Gebreslassie's sentence will be no less than 19 months and no more than five years. He will also be subject to three years of supervised released and must register as a sex offender for life. Also as part of the plea, the government will not file any other charges against Gebreslassie related to these three victims. His sentencing will be on February 16 of next year. He will remain in custody until them.
Gebreslassie may still face charges related to an alleged incident in Maryland.
In court on Thursday, Gebreslassie wore an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs and was accompanied by an Ethiopian interpreter. FOX 5's Melanie Alnwick said he seemed to be in good spirits and answered yes to all of the judge's questions. The judge did tell Gebreslassie that a guilty plea could affect his immigration status.
At least four women accused Gebreslassie of sexual assault. One victim alleged he placed his tongue on her genitals, while another said he put his face close to her genitals and touched her beyond the bikini line against her will.
Massage Envy said Gebreslassie was fired after he was arrested in September.
Massage Envy, the nation's largest massage franchise, said it was planning to "strengthen" its policies after a report published by Buzzfeed News in November stated that scores of former clients had accused their employees of criminal behavior, including unwanted groping, fondling and sexual assault.
In a statement to Fox News in November, Massage Envy said that it is "heartbroken" over the news, but maintains that these incidents only account for a tiny fraction of the company's millions of massages.
"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," said the company. "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."