Philly Massage Therapist Booking Appointments Despite Sexual Assault Charge, Suspended License
A state official has called Eric Elliott an "immediate and clear danger to the public health and safety." And yet, he's still practicing.
On the morning of Monday, July 25th, in Drexel Hill, a gray car pulled up in front of a home and parked as I sat in a nearby driveway watching after receiving a tip about the man behind the wheel. That man, Eric Elliott, opened the back hatch and pulled out a portable massage table.
He carried the table to the front of the home, where he was supposed to meet his 11 a.m. appointment, who had booked him online in the days prior for a 90-minute in-home massage using a link found on the Instagram page for his company, ElitE Massage and Wellness.
The would-be client came outside and explained she had an unexpected and very last-minute work obligation. She paid Elliott his required cancelation fee plus a tip.
The thing is, Elliott should have never been there. The woman who made the appointment had invited me to observe his arrival at her home to demonstrate that he is out there performing massages when, according to state court and agency records, he is not supposed to be.
Those records establish that the 50-year-old massage therapist’s license was suspended by the state’s Board of Massage Therapy on February 9th after a state prosecutor successfully argued that Elliott, who has been accused of sexually assaulting a client during a massage, is an “immediate and clear danger to the public health and safety.”
Just over a week prior to the state’s decision, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner had charged Elliott with aggravated indecent assault without consent, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He is currently out on $150,000 bail awaiting trial.
“Eric vehemently denies it occurred,” says Elliott’s attorney, Vincent Lorusso, when asked about the alleged assault. He confirmed the suspension of Elliott’s massage license.
The charge stems from an alleged incident at a home in South Philadelphia on Sunday, September 26th, of last year. According to court documents, a female client claimed that Elliott assaulted her during an in-home massage. She told police that Elliott touched her breasts and genitals and digitally penetrated her without her consent and that he “tugged her hair and choked her a little bit,” as a Special Victims Unit detective described it in a police report. She said that she “froze” during the encounter.
According to that police report, the woman told a friend what had happened right after the massage and her husband just a short time later that same afternoon. The day after Elliott’s visit to her home, she called the police and was later interviewed at the Special Victims Unit.
“I was in shock,” says the woman, who spoke with Philly Mag under the condition of anonymity. “I couldn’t process what was happening to me. I completely froze on the table. I couldn’t move. And after, I was really upset with myself that I couldn’t fight back.”
The woman says she found Elliott through a referral from a chiropractor. She tells Philly Mag that she had a previous massage with Elliott and that nothing inappropriate had occurred on that occasion.
“I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to report this to the police,” she says. “I was so embarrassed, and I really wanted to avoid being a part of the criminal justice system. I know how they treat victims. The only reason I decided to report this and to come forward now is to protect other women. What’s done to me is done. I can’t do anything about that.”
What Elliott’s accuser didn’t know when she scheduled her massage was that this wasn’t the first time a client had accused him of improper touching.
In 2016, when he was doing business under the company name Felicity Massage & Wellness, Elliott, then 44, was arrested and charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault, among other alleged offenses, though he was ultimately acquitted and a court ordered that the charges be expunged from his record, as required by Pennsylvania law.
The 2016 charges came after a woman alleged that Elliott sexually assaulted her using his hands and mouth during a massage in her Rittenhouse Square home. According to a court document Philly Mag has obtained from the official file of the Pennsylvania Board of Massage Therapy, the accuser told investigators that she was “in shock and afraid to move.”
“This freeze response is not uncommon in sexual assaults and other highly stressful situations,” says University of Pennsylvania faculty emeritus Kathleen Brown, who has done extensive research in victimology and sexual assault. “Somebody might hear that a woman froze during a sexual assault and not understand why she would do that. But you don’t really know what you would do until you’re in that situation. I’ve seen this time and time again.”
Like the current accuser, the woman in the 2016 case said that she had been previously treated by Elliott without incident.
When reached by phone, Elliott maintained that the accusations in 2016 and those he faces today are not, in fact, similar, but declined to comment further. “It is highly coincidental that somebody would be accused of similar conduct,” said Lorusso when asked if he was concerned about the apparent similarities. “But I don’t want to get into the case, necessarily.”
Elliott’s original trial for that 2016 arrest ended in a mistrial in May 2018, according to a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office. When the city retried Elliott in May 2019, he was found not guilty. The Board of Massage Therapy reinstated his massage license in 2019. He originally became a licensed massage therapist in Pennsylvania in 2012.
(Philly Mag reported on Elliott’s arrest in 2016 but took the story down in 2020 at his request after he was found not guilty and the court record was expunged. Like many other media outlets, the magazine reviews court records and other factors on a case-by-case basis before granting such requests.)
Due to the expungement, no records of that case from the 2016 arrest are publicly available through the courts. But the Board of Massage Therapy maintains a public website where some records are available.
Additionally, court records indicate that Elliott has previously been charged with other crimes, sometimes under the alias Gabriel Stevens.
In 1997, he was charged with corrupting a minor, simple assault, indecent assault, and endangering the welfare of a child; although he was convicted in Philadelphia’s Municipal Court, the verdict was overturned on appeal. In 1998, Elliott was convicted of simple assault and sentenced to two years of probation. And in 2005, Elliott was sentenced to five years probation after pleading guilty to a weapons offense.
As of the time of publication of this story, Elliott was listed as the only staff member of ElitE Massage and Wellness on his booking site, which remained functional, with times slots available throughout the month of August.
We asked Elliott why he is still practicing massage while his license is suspended. He referred us to Lorusso. “I was unaware that he was still working in that field,” Lorusso said. “I guess I will have to talk to him about that.”