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AZ massage board failed to investigate prostitution complaints for more than 2 years
Photo by David Fuentes Prieto | Getty Images
The state board that regulates massage therapists put the public at risk by failing to investigate complaints, including waiting more than 800 days to take action against three therapists accused of prostitution, according to a new state audit.
And the Arizona State Board of Massage Therapy ignored seven prostitution complaints lodged in January 2020 until state auditors asked in February 2022 why no investigations had been conducted, according to a report from the Arizona Auditor General’s Office issued Wednesday.
Not only did the board not take any action against the licensed therapists that were accused of prosecution, it renewed the licenses of four of the seven massage therapists.
“By not investigating and resolving all complaints that it receives and doing so in a timely manner, the Board has failed to fulfill its statutory responsibility by allowing unfit licensees or unlicensed individuals to continue practicing massage therapy, and thus placing public safety at risk,” state auditors wrote.
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When auditors raised the complaints with the board, its staff reported that three of the complaints had been administratively closed because the therapists’ licenses had expired. It wasn’t until March 2022 — some six months after an Arizona Republic investigation found the board was turning a blind eye to massage therapists accused of sexual abuse — that the board took action against the remaining four licensess. Three were immediately suspended that month; two months later, in May, the board revoked one license and accepted the surrender of a license from another accused therapist.
It’s unclear what has happened to the other two licensees, and auditors noted that their cases were unresolved as of May 2022.
The board had posted disciplinary actions on its website, but removed them in November 2021 after auditors flagged 111 actions that were older than the five years that state law requires they be posted.
“Subsequently, Board staff removed all copies of disciplinary and nondisciplinary actions/orders from its website and reported that it would review them and post on its website only those that fell within the 5-year statutory time frame,” auditors wrote. “However, as of June 2022, it had not done so, nor had it made available on its website copies of applicable actions/orders issued since December 2021.”
State auditors also faulted the board for not publishing its telephone number on its website, and instead directing the public to only contact the office by email.
When auditors used that email address to anonymously request complaint history information for three difference massage therapists, incomplete information was provided. In two cases, board staff directed auditors to the website, where the requested information was not published. In the third, the board failed to provide information about a pending complaint against a therapist. It also didn’t provide basic information, like the therapist’s license number.
In response to the audit’s findings, Massage Board Executive Director Tom Augherton wrote that the board intends to comply with all of the audit’s recommendations.
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