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Massage therapist suspected of raping a 77-year-old and sexually assaulting clients

Russell Bernardino
Russell Bernardino, 43, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of rape, elder sexual abuse, oral copulation and sexual battery.
(Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

An Orange County massage therapist is behind bars after authorities allege he sexually assaulted two clients at Massage Envy and raped a 77-year-old woman.

Russell Bernardino, 43, was taken into custody at his home in Mission Viejo on Wednesday on suspicion of rape, elder sexual abuse, oral copulation and sexual battery, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

He is being held in Orange County jail in lieu of $100,000 bail. He has not been charged.

Authorities began investigating Bernardino in March 2018 after a woman in her 70s reported that he had raped her at her home in Laguna Woods while serving as her caregiver, police said.

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In April, a 36-year-old woman reported she was sexually assaulted by Bernardino while receiving a massage at Massage Envy in Mission Viejo. Two months later, a 71-year-old woman alleged that Bernardino sexually assaulted her at the same location, police said.

Massage Envy came under fire in 2017 after a BuzzFeed News investigation revealed a rash of sex assaults reported at the massage chain’s national franchises. The company responded at the time by saying it would roll out reforms to protect customers.

“Massage Envy is committed to promoting a safe environment for members, guests and service providers at each of our nearly 1,200 franchise locations nationwide,” according to a statement from the company provided to the Orange County Register. “We urge anyone that experiences anything other than a safe, quality massage to report it immediately to the franchise location so that it can be investigated.”

Bernardino has been a licensed massage therapist for about three years and a licensed home healthcare provider for about two years, police said. He worked at West Coast Care in Orange from 2017 to 2018, and police suspect he may have worked at other home healthcare companies in the area.

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Authorities think Bernardino may have been involved in other assaults and are asking any additional victims to come forward.

Anyone with information is being asked to call the Orange County Sheriff’s Department at (714) 647-7419. Tips can also be left anonymously with OC Crime Stoppers at (855) 847-6227.


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