$4.9M Awarded to Women Who Allege Sexual Assault by a Massage Therapist
A Yavapai County Superior Court jury awarded $4.9 million to two women who allege they were sexually assaulted during massages at a Sedona spa.
The women say they suffered physical, emotional and psychological trauma after receiving massages from Aaron Frank Orrico at Namti Spa in 2016. The 48-year-old former massage therapist has pending criminal charges related to the allegations.
One of the women, who lives in Massachusetts and is identified in court documents as “M.N.,” said Orrico touched and fondled her genitals during a massage in February 2016. She told him, “no thanks,” and she alleges he whispered in her ear, “I hope I didn’t offend you.”
She reported the incident to the spa and to the Sedona Police Department.
Orrico denied the allegations.
The second alleged incident happened in June of the same year, when a woman identified as “S.Y.” said he massaged her breasts, touched around her anus and fondled her genitals. The civil lawsuit alleges Orrico kept telling her he only wanted to make her feel good.
The lawsuit said she reported the incident to the spa and was told this was the first time anyone had claimed Orrico engaged in sexual conduct with a client.
The suit alleges there are other victims, saying that Orrico “admitted” he gave a similar “special massage” to as many as 10% of his female customers without receiving consent for the sexual contact.
The lawsuit said a third woman, who is not a plaintiff and is identified as “P.W.,” also had her breasts and genitals touched and fondled later that year, in November, while Orrico was working at the Spa of Sedona. All three women said they filed police reports on the incidents.
Orrico and his attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He and his attorney denied the allegations in letters to the Arizona State Board of Massage Therapy in 2016.
Orrico wrote that he has always complied with the standards, regulations and laws governing massage therapy. He said he has provided about 1,500 massages since becoming a licensed massage therapist in 2014, and the 2016 incidents were the first that resulted in complaints.
The massage board revoked his license after the allegations. The board said Orrico broke a state law that prohibits massage therapists from engaging in sexual activity with clients, and he failed to follow the standards and ethics of massage therapy.
Namti Spa and its owner, Jeff McGrath, did not return messages seeking comment.
Robin Bailey, owner of the Spa of Sedona, told The Arizona Republic that Orrico worked sporadically for her spa beginning in September 2016. He gave a total of five massages over three or four months, she said.
“I never had a problem with him,” she said.
She had no record of anyone with the initials “P.W.” receiving a massage from Orrico at her spa. She said she was unaware Orrico had complaints against him at Namti Spa. She said she has not been contacted by police or any alleged victims.
“It’s a shame I didn’t know about it,” she said, adding she has “zero tolerance” for massage therapists accused of sexual assault.
Jury awards damages
After a three-day trial last month, a Yavapai County jury awarded $4 million in punitive damages to the women. The jury also awarded medical expenses of $300,000 to M.N. and $630,000 to S.Y.
The lawsuit originally named Namti Spa as a defendant. But the business was dismissed from the suit after reaching a settlement with the victims before trial.
Stephen H. Schwartz, a Sedona attorney who represents the women, declined comment because of Orrico’s pending criminal trial, scheduled for Feb. 19. Orrico faces three charges of sexual assault, class 2 felonies.
The seven-figure verdict is consistent with similar cases nationally, said Phoenix attorney Robert Pastor. He represents sexual abuse victims and is not involved in the Sedona case.
“It also speaks to the impact that the #MeToo movement is having on how we, as a community, view sexual abuse and sexual assault,” he said.
The verdict illustrates that “Arizona citizens will deliver the justice victims deserve,” he said.
By Anne Ryman, Arizona Republic [AZCentral]