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PRINCETON TOWNSHIP – A 50-year-old single mother faces prostitution charges for allegedly running a one-woman brothel masquerading as a massage therapy parlor from a Griggs Farm apartment, township police said yesterday.

The woman, Meryl A. James, was arrested Tuesday and charged with prostitution and controlling a house of prostitution, police said.

Her arrest followed a month-long investigation that authorities launched after a tip from one of James’ neighbors in the 280-unit development where James lives with her teenage child, a law-enforcement source said on condition of anonymity.

The investigation, which is ongoing, relied on a male undercover detective from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, township police Capt. Mark Emann said.

“He went there for a massage and was offered a sexual favor,” Emann said.

James, who was released on her own recognizance and faces a hearing on the charges Tuesday in municipal court here, denied the allegations in an interview yesterday.

“They’re totally false,” said James, who referred to herself as the Rev. Meryl James, ordained by an interfaith ministry known as the Universal Brotherhood.

“I was actually set up. It was an entrapment kind of thing,” she said.

“This man was trying to elicit inappropriate behavior from me and I never did it,” James said. “I never did anything but what was therapeutic.”

“I’m an ordained minister (and) a natural holistic health-care practitioner,” said James, who shares her two-bedroom apartment with the youngest of her three children.

Both charges against her are fourth-degree offenses, Emann said.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in jail if convicted, said Casey DeBlasio, spokeswoman for the Mercer County prosecutor’s office.

Police said there is nothing to suggest James’ child had any role in the alleged prostitution. Police did not reveal any information identifying the teenager, who is a minor. The law-enforcement source said the investigation indicates that James masturbated some of her male massage clients and performed oral sex on others.

She charged between $100 and $150 for the sessions that provided sexual favors, according to the law-enforcement source, who said police confiscated a log book that included clients’ names.

James said in an interview yesterday that some of her massage techniques could be misconstrued as masturbation of her clients. But she insisted that in those cases she essentially was providing therapy for men suffering from enlarged prostates or erectile dysfunction, rather than performing any kind of sex act.

James also denied performing oral sex on her clients, who she said are predominantly male and include doctors, at least one Princeton University professor and salesmen who simply get massage therapy from her.

She said she also provides, for some clients who request it, a specialized massage technique in which both she and the client are completely naked.

“I’m in the nude and the client’s in the nude too,” James said. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of massage.”

James said she is also a musician and author who is working on books about coping with depression and bipolar disorder.

She estimated that she has an average of about five clients weekly for her massage business, Meryl’s Meditative Massage.

Her massage therapy Web site includes a testimonial attributed to the late baseball legend Willie Stargell, suggesting that Stargell, who died in 2001, once benefited from James’ healing touch.

“I had such pain in my knees, I couldn’t sleep at night,” Stargell is quoted as saying on the Web site. “After one treatment, I felt relief and slept soundly that night.” Police suspect James has been involved in prostitution from her apartment for at least a year. James said she pays about $400 per month in rent for the apartment, which is among the approximately 140 low- and moderate-income units at Griggs Farm.

One of her neighbors said yesterday she wasn’t surprised by the charges against James but declined to comment further. Attempts to contact representatives of the Griggs Farm Condominium Association were unsuccessful.

The nature of the charges against James and the age of her youngest child required that investigators alert the state Division of Youth and Family Services, a law-enforcement source said. DYFS sought but was denied a court order Tuesday to temporarily strip James of custody of her child, the source said.

DYFS spokesman Andy Williams said state law bars him from confirming or denying the agency’s involvement in a particular custody case.

“If we’re aware of a situation like that (facing Meryl James) we would be concerned for the child’s well-being,” Williams said. “That might include a request (for court approval) to remove the child from the home.”

James said she has been doing massage therapy for 29 years, the last 10 of them in Princeton.

She said her child “is never here when there’s clients here. Never.”

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