NEW YORK — A couple of months ago, I was invited to the New Jersey mansion of the world’s most prolific massage therapist.
I had been a frequent guest at his home in nearby Jersey City for the past six years.
He was the host of his monthly “massage salon” and one of the largest massage therapists in the world.
But for a while, I wasn’t invited back.
As he explained, it was because he had been arrested in a corruption case that was being investigated by the New York state Attorney General.
“I’ve been in jail on a lot of charges, but that was when I had a few more things going on,” said the 45-year-old former massage therapist, who gave only his first name, Ren Phyo.
The prosecutor had charged him with racketeering and wire fraud.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been arrested for something I had nothing to do with.
I was charged in 2011 for having sex with a 12-year old boy.
Ren Phyo has been married to his wife for 25 years.
She works in the family-run massage business, Massage Spa of America in Jersey City.
My first arrest in a case that involved a 15-year girl is something I was very lucky to avoid, Ren said.
But I was arrested in 2014 in New York City, after having sex, with a man who was in my office.
He had come to me for help with an old girlfriend who was sick.
So I asked him to take me to the hospital and I was on my way to get her in an ambulance.
He got in a car with me and drove us to the police station.
Then he said to me, “I’m so sorry, but I think you are going to die of AIDS.”
I was so scared.
I had just been diagnosed with HIV.
Now, with my partner and my three kids, I am on the road to recovery, he said.
“It was the first step in getting better.
It’s like a life-altering thing to go through, but you can’t go through that again.
If you’re having a hard time, don’t get in trouble.”
Ren is currently on trial for allegedly taking bribes and pocketing millions of dollars from people who had HIV, according to prosecutors.
After my arrest, I went to a rehabilitation center in California where I got tested for HIV.
My case has been forwarded to New Jersey, where Ren Phao lives.
For now, he is out of jail.
We are happy to have the chance to give people the best massage they can get, he told me.
This is what we are looking forward to: to help people who have a hardtime get the help they need.
A lot of people are worried about me, Ren says, adding that he’s happy to share his stories and help people.
Massage Therapy of America has a staff of around 70 people.
Ren Phoo says he has treated thousands of clients over the past few years.
His wife is also working in massage therapy, and she’s helping people to get their HIV/AIDS tests done.
While many massage therapists have moved to California, Ren is still living in his home state.
He told me he is optimistic about his life and is going to be fine.
More to come…