Suspected prostitute arrested
Princeton resident Meryl James was arrested earlier this week and charged with prostitution and controlling a house of prostitution following a month-long investigation, Township police said Thursday.
James, a 50-year-old single mother of three who calls herself a Swedish masseuse, operated out of her Griggs Farm apartment.
The investigation was launched when police "got reports of unnecessary amounts of traffic coming and going at an apartment," Princeton Township Police Lt. Robert Buchanan said in an interview.
After being peacefully taken into custody, James explained that she had been operating her massage business in the Princeton area for about 10 years, Buchanan said.
James was released on her own recognizance later the same day. Griggs Farm Manager Lucy James declined to comment on whether James would be allowed to maintain her Griggs Drive residence.
The investigation relied heavily on the undercover work of detective Gary Wasko from the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, police said.
James was advertising her out-of-home massage therapy business in a local newspaper and on the Internet.
In an interview with the Times of Trenton, James denied doing anything illegal, saying that her techniques could be misconstrued as sex acts. "I was actually set up," James told the Times. "It was an entrapment kind of thing."
"This man [Wasko] was trying to elicit inappropriate behavior from me and I never did it," she added. "I never did anything but what was therapeutic."
She admitted, however, that she does provide a special type of naked massage.
"I'm in the nude and the client's in the nude too," James told the Times.
"There's absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of massage," she said.
James also said most of her clients are male and include at least one University professor.
Though the lead police investigator, detective Annette Henderson, declined to provide further details of the case, the Times quoted an unnamed "law enforcement source" as saying that the investigation found that James masturbated and performed oral sex on some of her clients.
The sessions cost between $100 and $150, according to the Times' source, who also noted that police confiscated a log book that included clients' names.
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, neighbor Ellen Foos described James, who also writes poetry, as a "free spirit" who "means well."
"It's a touchy situation with her being a little unstable," Foos said Thursday night.
"She's very naïve, very open to the extreme. She doesn't have good boundaries ... She's very sexual. She's pretty preoccupied with that kind of stuff," Foos added, referring to James' poetry, which is filled with sexual imagery.
At the same time, Foos acknowledged that James is "very community-minded."
"She's always at the voting booth, helping people register to vote," Foos said. "She needs to make money, so she gives massages."
James, who prefers to be referred to as the Reverend Meryl, claims to be an ordained minister through the Universal Brotherhood Movement. On her personal website, she writes that "since 1981 she has specialized in foot reflexology, acupressure, toning, and magnified healing combined within a soothing Swedish massage."
"[H]er massage puts you into a higher state of consciousness and profound deep meditation where healing and spiritual transformation occur spontaneously," the site notes.
In 1999, James suffered second- and third-degree burns to her face and chest after leaning over a lighted candle on her bedroom dresser, setting her hair and clothing on fire, according to a story then in the Princeton Packet.
James currently awaits a trial date and faces up to 18 months in jail on each count if convicted.
— Includes reporting and writing by Princetonian Senior Writer Chanakya Sethi.