Massage therapist pleads guilty to sexually assaulting three customers

WASHINGTON — A former massage therapist pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting three female customers in D.C., and could face up to five years in prison.

Habtamu Gebreslassie, through an interpreter, said “I’m guilty” three times in entering pleas to one count of first-degree sexual assault of a patient, one count of attempted first-degree sexual assault of a patient and one count of misdemeanor sexual abuse.

Under the plea agreement, D.C. Superior Court judge Lynn Leibovitz will sentence Gebreslassie on Feb. 16 to between 19 months and five years behind bars, and three years of supervised probation.

He will also have to register as a sex offender for life.

Gebreslassie had only been charged with two assaults, but a grand jury had been hearing evidence for several weeks about two other alleged assaults.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Williams, reading a proffer of facts, described the three incidents — two of which occurred at the Massage Envy in Tenleytown. One assault happened at Deluca Massage & Bodyworks, in Dupont Circle.

Gebreslassie smiled pleasantly at the judge at times during the plea hearing. While listening to the translation of the first assault, he smiled nervously during the description of the illegal touching.

Outside the courtroom, Gebreslassie’s attorney Sweta Patel said her client accepted responsibility for the assaults, but declined to elaborate, citing the pending sentencing hearing.

Gebreslassie could have been sentenced to 15 years and 6 months for the three crimes had he not accepted the prosecution’s plea offer.

Leibovitz said she wanted to read or hear victim impact statements from the three women before pronouncing sentence.

Last month, one of the victims, Tara Woodley — referred to during the plea hearing as “T.W.” — spoke about her $25 million lawsuit filed against Massage Envy.

“It is almost impossible to express how violated I felt and how scared I was,” she said in a news conference. “I felt deep shame and embarrassment about what happened to me.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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