TITUSVILLE, Fla. — Five women who say they were violated by a Titusville medical massage therapist are sharing their stories exclusively with Spectrum News 13 in the hopes of protecting others and changing what they believe is a broken system.
What You Need To Know
- Massage therapist facing multiple charges related to assault investigations
- 5 former clients come forward to talk to Spectrum News 13 about Thomas Grasso
- Women say they are speaking out in the hopes of helping assault victims
- GET HELP: Brevard County rape hotline: (321) 784-HELP | Victim Service Center of Central Florida: https://www.victimservicecenter.org or 407-500-HEAL
- TIMELINE: ▼ The Thomas Grasso investigation (scroll to bottom) ▼
- FLORIDA LICENSE LOOKUP: Look up the status of a licensed practictioner on the Department of Health website
- FACEBOOK LIVE Q&A: We hosted a Facebook Live Q&A with David Haas, the former federal prosecutor and trial attorney mentioned in this Watchdog investigation, and Lui Damiani, the executive director of the Victim Service Center of Central Florida, to talk about issues surrounding assault survivors. You can watch the replay here.
Thomas Grasso is currently facing seven misdemeanor and felony charges. Investigators have sent an additional 57 recommended charges to the State Attorney’s Office.
Two of the five women did not want to show their faces on camera but say they want to use their voices to help effect change.
As a warning, their stories contain explicit content.
On January 4, 2021, a judge granted a request by Grasso’s attorney to no longer represent his client. The case before the judge involved charges of battery and indecent exposure.
The Florida Department of Health issued Grasso’s massage therapist license in 1993, according to records.
Titusville Police say for at least the past 10 years, he sexually assaulted, molested, and exposed himself to patients.
As of January 8, 2021, Titusville Police Chief John Lau says 21 women have filed police reports.
“I just want him stopped. Tom Grasso is a predator, and he needs to be stopped, and he hurt me -- not physically but emotionally and mentally,” said one of the women who asked us not to use her name.
“September 10, I had my first massage ever, and it was by Tom Grasso, and he battered me… sexually battered me,” Belinda Bintemire said. “I went to file a police report, and the policeman, you could tell he didn’t believe me. He asked, ‘Are you sure you want to file a police report?’ ”
Bintemire said she filed a police report, but another month went by. During that time, Grasso was still licensed and allowed to perform medical massages.
Then, according to an October 8, 2020 police report, another woman contacted police, this time with a video recording that she says showed Grasso exposing himself, manipulating his penis, and touching her with it while massaging her.
“I have yet to see the whole thing. I can’t. I can’t look at it. It’s too disgusting. It’s too much. It’s like watching your own rape,” the woman said.
That same day, police arrested Grasso on a misdemeanor charge, questioning him about that video.
In the two months that followed — with Grasso still licensed to practice — 18 additional women filed police reports.
“I filed my felony charges on October 16… October 16, they were filed with the Titusville Police Department. Why is it that it took from October 16 to December 3 to have him arrested? That’s six weeks. Six weeks,” asked one of the women.
Trial attorney and former federal prosecutor David Haas called this case both “unusual” and “powerful” since so many victims have come forward.
“When 20 women have come forward, younger or older women, you would expect to see a fast response. Now that he’s been arrested, the state has to process all that evidence as well,” Haas said.
We asked Lau, the police chief, about the timeline and why it took so long for police to arrest Grasso a second time.
“It’s interesting that it didn’t take 19 women. Nineteen women happened to have come forward during that time. It wasn’t the number that created the arrest. We had to articulate and have a violation of a felony charge in order to make a hands-on arrest, and we finally were able to do that for one of our victims,” Lau said.
During our hours-long interview, we asked the five women to raise a hand if they felt they wouldn’t be believed when coming forward.
Three raised a hand, indicating they think there’s a larger systemic failure.
“(The system) is broken. We are not believed,” said one of the women. “It could have been prevented.”
Lau said it’s “heartbreaking to hear that.”
“A lot of times, if police… if we don’t have evidence to move forward with the case, I believe sometimes people perceive that as we don’t believe them. That’s not the case at all,” Lau said. “We will look at this, we will pull body camera video, and if there’s an area where we can train and retrain and get better, we will certainly do that.”
Videotaped Massage May Not Be Admissible
One of the women was so concerned she wouldn’t be believed that she secretly videotaped Grasso while she says he exposed and manipulated himself. But under Florida’s wiretapping law, both parties in a recording must have consented to being recorded; the woman would have had to first ask Grasso whether she could record him during the therapy session.
Because Grasso did not consent to the recording, the woman broke the law.
“I’m incredibly sad that I didn’t have enough confidence in our system to be able to know that I could come forward without that concrete proof and be believed,” the woman said.
The October 8, 2020 police report says that after detectives showed Grasso the video, “he admitted it was him… (stating) he committed those acts.”
Spectrum News 13 obtained the recorded interview between Grasso and the Titusville detective. The State Attorney Office redacted Grasso’s confession in that recording, since the video was obtained illegally and therefore likely not allowed as evidence in court.
“It’s a hurt that, if you haven’t felt it, you can’t believe it totally, and you can’t understand it,” said the woman who made the recording during her massage.
Florida lawmakers crafted the wiretapping law in 1975. Marc Consalo, an associate lecturer with the University of Central Florida, said that since then, a lot has changed in terms of technology and cameras.
“Just think about cell phones 10 years ago… Our cell phones are completely different from what they’re used for now. So it’s vital that we take a look (at the laws) every so often and check in and ask, ‘Do these make sense where we’re at in society today?’ ” Consalo said.
Lau, the police chief, thinks lawmakers need to revisit the wiretapping law and include exceptions for situations like this one.
“There was no intent to violate the law. She was trying to save herself — and actually, future people… and it will be a shame if this evidence isn’t allowed to be presented,” Lau said.
Health Department Licensing in Question
But for the survivors, one question still haunts them: Why did it have to get this far?
Grasso’s license is administered by the Florida Department of Health. One of the agency’s responsibilities is investigating complaints against licensed practitioners.
According to a DOH spokesperson, the agency received the first complaints about Grasso on October 9, which triggered their investigation. The agency’s Board received another complaint on October 20. But it wasn’t until November 20 when the board ordered an emergency restriction of Grasso’s license, concluding he “constitutes an immediate, serious danger,” but it didn’t revoke his license.
“They knew they had felony charges in the middle of October. They knew they had felony charges in the middle of October. Why didn’t they take his license in the middle of October?” asked one of the women involved in the case.
Grasso voluntarily gave up his license in December. As of January 5, 2021, a DOH spokesperson said that “Mr. Grasso is currently still licensed with the state,” because the board hadn’t voted to accept his voluntary relinquishment.
“When somebody is lodging these very serious complaints against somebody who has a license, they have to investigate and investigate quickly,” said Haas, the former federal prosecutor.
In an email, a DOH spokesperson said, “Before licensees can be deprived of their license, they have a constitutional right to due process.”
Touching Hands Remains a Trigger
But for each of these women, the trauma continues, bleeding into every aspect of their lives.
“I cannot allow my hands to be touched. Even my 3-year-old grandson will reach for my hand, and I pull it back, because I can’t stand to have my hands touched. That’s my biggest trigger. I can’t have my hands touched,” one woman shared with Spectrum News 13.
That’s why these women chose to come forward: to advocate for victims and their truths and to break the cycle.
“We all believe each other. That’s very uplifting to know that everyone of us believes the other,” said one of the women.
“I want to make sure everybody knows that they are not alone. All the victims in any case, especially this one, deserve to be heard,” another woman said.
“There will be no more victims of Tom Grasso,” vowed another woman.
The State Attorney’s Office declined Spectrum News 13’s request to speak with State Attorney Phil Archer, citing the ongoing investigation.
Grasso declined our request for an interview, and we have been unable to connect with his public defender.
His next court appearance is scheduled for February 4.