Orange County massage therapist appears in court on charges of multiple sex assaults

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A Mission Viejo massage therapist made his first appearance in court Thursday on charges of sexually assaulting multiple women.

Russell Bernardino, 43, stood quietly in a holding cell in the courtroom before his arraignment was postponed until next month. His bail is set at $100,000.

The licensed massage therapist and home health care provider is facing multiple sexual assault charges including the alleged rape of a 77-year-old woman.

Sheriff's deputies say the investigation began in March 2018, after a 77-year-old woman accused Bernardino of the crime while he was working as her caregiver, employed by West Coast Care.

Investigators say they ran into hurdles filing that case and gathering evidence. Then in April and June of this year, two more women accused him of sexual assault while he gave them massages.

"Clients of his at Massage Envy that were getting massages done and at some point during both those events, he committed some sort of sexual assault," said Sgt. Joses Walehwa with the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Massage Envy and West Coast Care have not responded to our requests for comment.

Bernardino faces charges of rape, elder sexual abuse, oral copulation and sexual battery.

Deputies fear his work as a masseuse and caretaker may mean there are more potential victims.

"One of our biggest concerns is that he had access to additional clients," Walehwa said. "So that's a big reason we're out here today is we're trying to get the information, get his picture out."

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