The Orange County Sheriff’s Department Special Victims detail on arrested 43-year-old Mission Viejo resident Russell Bernardino today on suspicion of rape, elder sexual abuse, oral copulation and sexual battery. He is currently in custody at the Orange County Jail, with bail set at $100,000.
Bernardino, who has been a licensed massage therapist for three years, allegedly sexually assaulted a 36-year-old woman at the Massage Envy in Mission Viejo in April of this year, according to a July 17 news release from the OC Sheriff’s Dept. He also allegedly sexually assaulted a 71-year-old woman at the same location in June.
Massage Envy locations nationwide have been contending with rape allegations for years. In 2017, Buzzfeed published this investigative report on 180 separate sexual assault claims and allegations facing Massage Envy:
Massage Envy, the first and by far the largest chain of massage franchises in the country, is a billion-dollar business that promises trustworthy services at an affordable price. But BuzzFeed News found that more than 180 people have filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports, and state board complaints against Massage Envy spas, their employees, and the national company… many [victims] say their claims were mishandled or ignored by employees and owners of individual Massage Envy spas, and by the national company itself.
Then in 2018, Buzzfeed reported “Sixteen women claim they were sexually assaulted at Massage Envy spas in two lawsuits recently filed in California and Florida, adding to the hundreds of women who say they were abused by therapists employed by the billion-dollar massage chain.”
For its part, a Massage Envy spokesperson told Buzzfeed that the company was working to increase safety for women at its locations.
“We believe victims are finding their voice and feeling more comfortable reporting (and in some cases filing lawsuits), which was anticipated,” a spokesperson told Buzzfeed. “We can tell you that we remain committed to our Commitment to Safety plan, which is further strengthening our existing policies. Safety is and will always be our priority and we will never stop working on it.”
As for Bernardino, Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. says he also allegedly committed sexual assault as a home care giver, a job he’s held for about two years. “In March 2018, a 77-year-old female reported Bernardino, while serving as her caregiver, raped her at her home in Laguna Woods,” states the OC Sheriff’s news release. “Bernardino was employed by West Coast Care in Orange from 2017-2018, and may have worked for other home health care companies in Orange County. Investigators believe there may be additional victims and are asking for the public’s help.”
Those with information regarding this case or possible other victims are urged to contact the OC Sheriff’s Dept. at 714-647-7419, or submit an anonymous tip to OC Crime Stoppers at 855-TIP-OCCS (855-847-6227) or at occrimestoppers.org.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.