A state health investigator first informed Lisa Spiegel that a massage therapist who admitted molesting her with his hands was back in business.
The investigator wouldn’t tell Spiegel where the man was working, though; the Tampa nurse practitioner had to find out for herself.
She visited a state Department of Health website and found that Michael McIntosh started his job at The Massage Spa in St. Petersburg just six weeks after the beginning of the 10 years probation a judge gave him for sexual battery. The website listed his license as clear and active, with no complaints or discipline — nothing about his guilty plea to the crime he committed against Spiegel.
“I was kind of getting on with my life and to find out he was still working was very shocking to me,” Spiegel told News Channel 8. “They did nothing to take his license away and who’s to say he’s not going to do this crime again?”
Five months later, the Department of Health still refrains from telling the public about McIntosh’s admission. The website designed to communicate whether massage therapists meet the rules established by the state makes no mention McIntosh used his job to commit a sex crime.
The only way for a potential client to find out, in fact, is by running a side-by-side computer comparison between a database of licensees and a database of sex offenders that Florida also keeps.
Do that, as News Channel 8 did, and you’ll find that the 50-year-old McIntosh has company: Eight registered sex offenders have clean massage therapy histories statewide. Five of the licenses are listed as clear and active, the other three as delinquent — not because of action by the Department of Health but because people who hold them simply failed to renew.
Spiegel said she’s been told a health department investigation into McIntosh’s license is under way, but a department spokesman would neither confirm nor deny that and there’s no indication of it on the website.
Nothing in the public record would appear to prevent McIntosh from renewing the license he allowed to expire in August.
“It puts a black eye on the entire profession and it supports the misperception that a lot of people have that it is a sex-type business,” said state Rep. Carl F. “Z” Zimmermann, a Largo Democrat, who has spoken with Spiegel.
Zimmermann finds her story shocking.
“First, that it happened,” he said. “But second, that the guy was still practicing that he could still engage in this type of activity.”
News Channel 8 and the Tribune typically withhold the names of sex crime victims in news reports, but Spiegel insisted her name be used to show she’s serious about change in the health department.
“Somebody’s got to hold them accountable,” she said. “How many times has this happened?”
No law prohibits a sex offender in Florida from obtaining a massage therapist’s license. Zimmermann said he plans to draft legislation to change that — and to require the health department to be more diligent in its regulation.
There are no questions requiring disclosure of sex crimes on the renewal application form that massage therapists fill out. No background checks are conducted. The health department says license holders are supposed to notify the agency if they are arrested for any crime, so it relies, essentially, on the honor system.
The department does issue sanctions, its records show, as it did in the case of a massage therapist who fondled the breasts of a customer who had recently undergone an enhancement procedure.
But there’s no way for the public to know whether discipline is under consideration because the department doesn’t reveal complaints until 10 days after investigators determine there is “probable cause” for action.
The department would not comment on the status of the five registered sex offenders who hold massage therapist licenses listed on the website as clear and active. All are on the register for sex offenses involving children and all recently renewed their licenses.
One of them is Eric Antunes of Clearwater.
After News Channel 8 started asking questions last month, a state probation officer told Antunes he won’t allow him to practice massage therapy.
“Everything’s under investigation,” Antunes said in an interview. “So, I’m not going to say anything, just in case.” Antunes was charged with possession of child pornography and is serving a probation that includes dozens of special restrictions. Among them: He wears an ankle monitor, has a curfew, and can’t be alone with his own daughter in his own house.
Still, as far as the health department is concerned, his massage license is in good standing.
“Again, completely wrong,” said Rep. Zimmermann.
Here are profiles of the other Florida sex offenders with clear and active massage therapy licenses.
Matthew Wilson, licensed since 2001 and practicing in Fort Walton Beach. Charged in 1997 with lewd and lascivious conduct involving a child under 16, Wilson told the health department he had sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 29 without realizing she was under age. Wilson told a reporter, “I’m not going to lead the life I’m labeled as. People make mistakes in their past and learn from their mistakes.”
Constance Stilwell of Delray Beach, who has had an unblemished license since 1986, according to the health department list. Stilwell became a registered sex offender for lewd and lascivious behavior on a child under 16 in 1993. Details of her offense could not be determined.
Michael Goodrum, who practices in the Florida Keys, has had an unblemished record with the health department since 1993. Goodrum is on federal probation for child pornography involving pictures of children under the age of 12. They were found by FBI agents on his computer in 2004. Goodrum told a reporter he never touched any children and his massage clients know about his status as a registered sex offender. “My clients are aware. They have no problem with the issue,” Goodrum said. “I don’t hurt people. I try to help people.”
Thomas Murphy, who obtained his license in 2011 and was practicing massage therapy in Tallahassee when police arrested him that year for soliciting sex online with a girl he thought was 14. He was actually negotiating with an undercover police officer. Murphy has been on state probation and a registered sex offender since 2012. He was charged with using a computer to urge a parent to consent to his daughter’s participation in sexual conduct.
Lisa Spiegel says she first went in for therapeutic massage to relieve chronic pain brought on by herniated disks and scoliosis.
“I go for pain management,” she said.
She turned in spring 2012 to licensed massage therapist Michael McIntosh.
Later, after seeing him punished for his crime against her, she was shocked to learn he was practicing with The Massage Spa in St. Petersburg.
Massage Spa co-owner Cindy Bonsignori said in an interview the spa had no reason to doubt McIntosh’s credentials, nor to perform a criminal background check, because he had worked there previously and the health department website showed his license was in good order.
In a sworn affidavit given to the Department of Corrections probation office, Bonsignori said McIntosh was terminated Aug. 23, the same day a client tipped off the spa manager that McIntosh was a sex offender.
“Mr. McIntosh was an independent contractor with a valid license,” Bonsignori said. “We take great pride in our reputation and would never knowingly hire a sex offender.”
McIntosh was sentenced under a plea bargain to 10 years of sex-offender probation with dozens of special conditions, including a curfew, driving logs, sex offender treatment sessions, and a ban on any computer activity. In return, the judge withheld a formal conviction.
Spiegel says friends have urged her to put the McIntosh licensing issue behind her for her own emotional well-being, but insists she won’t stop complaining to people like Rep. Zimmermann, the health department and others until something changes.
“If I can save one person from what I had to go through, it’s worth it.”
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