Deshaun Watson’s alleged $5,000 payment to spa owner under scrutiny in massage cases

A Houston spa owner recently testified that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson gave her $5,000, and the reason for it was simply because “he’s a nice person,” according to a deposition transcript obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

The spa owner, Dionne Louis, facilitated massages for Watson and helped provide him with women, according to a new lawsuit filed Tuesday against Watson. And now that payment – and why he gave it to her – have come under new scrutiny as Watson faces lawsuits from 23 women who accuse him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions from early 2020 to March 2021.

At least three of the 23 plaintiffs worked for Louis or were otherwise associated with her, according to court records. Louis, who owns “A New U Salon Spa” in Houston, described one of those three plaintiffs as her cousin, a woman who accused Watson of trying to force her to perform oral sex in 2020. Watson, 26, has denied wrongdoing but could be suspended by the NFL if he is found to have violated the league’s personal conduct policy.

Louis “has been identified by several Plaintiffs as someone who was instrumental in setting up the massages between them and Deshaun Watson at her place of business – A New U Spa – knowing full well that she was sending them into danger and knowing that Deshaun Watson was looking for sexual activity rather than a professional massage,” according to court records filed in December by plaintiffs attorney Tony Buzbee.

Deshaun Watson makes his first appearance as a member of the Browns at a news conference in March.

Louis’ role in Watson’s massages also was cited in a new lawsuit filed Tuesday by the 23rd plaintiff, who worked for Louis at her spa until she said she decided to quit after her third encounter with Watson.

“A New U Salon Spa provided women for Watson,” the woman's lawsuit states. “Dionne Louis, the owner of the spa, facilitated massages for Watson and knew Watson was attempting to have sex with them. Plaintiff expressed her concerns about Watson to Ms. Louis. Louis brushed the concerns off. It was later learned that Watson paid Dionne Louis at least five thousand dollars for Louis’s 'work.’”

Reached by phone Tuesday, Louis told USA TODAY Sports, “All of that is ludicrous.”

Louis also said the newest plaintiff “has a pattern of doing this type of stuff.” She referred questions about the $5,000 to her attorney, who said he doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Earlier this year, Watson admitted in written questions that the office of his attorney, Rusty Hardin, helped Louis find a lawyer but denied that her lawyer's fees were being paid by him or Hardin.

Louis has been described by the plaintiffs’ attorneys as an uncooperative witness, and the new lawsuit describes her as “very proud to have Watson as a client.” A footnote in the new lawsuit also stated that Louis pleaded the protections of the Fifth Amendment when asked for text messages between her and Watson. 

“Louis had emphasized to Plaintiff that she needed to keep Watson happy,” the newest lawsuit states.

Louis testified in a pretrial deposition in May, when she was asked about the $5,000 payment.

“Did you do something for that?” Buzbee asked, according to the partial transcript obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

“What you mean did I do something for it?” Louis replied. “He's a nice person. Like I was in the struggle with COVID, so ...”

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She said Watson gave her money only once, according to the transcript.

“And he just gave you that because he was a nice guy?” Buzbee asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“OK. Because you asked for it?” Buzbee asked.

“Well, it was COVID and it was – he was blessing everybody,” Louis replied. “He had told me a story he blessed some cafeteria workers. He was a nice guy, really, really nice guy.”

She said she needed equipment for her spa: a “butt vacuum machine” that helps with cellulite and a “cryo machine.” But she testified she was having a hard time because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that Watson agreed to help her with $5,000. Her mention of cafeteria workers is an apparent reference to 2017, when Watson donated his first game check to cafeteria employees affected by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

An exhibit attached to the 23rd lawsuit filed Tuesday shows an apparent screen shot of a Cash App receipt for $5,000 from Watson to Louis, with the description “for machine.” It's dated Nov. 14 and came in 2020, Buzbee said.

Underneath the receipt, Louis apparently writes to a third party that she wanted $20,000 from Watson but got $5,000. The third party was a woman who became a plaintiff in these cases, according to the transcript. The first lawsuits were filed against Watson in March 2021.

“I told you I’ll show you how to get money from men that’s my specialty,” Louis wrote, according to the exhibit filed in court.

In her deposition in May, Louis said she didn’t remember writing that.

Hardin, Watson’s attorney, said the women are lying and out for money. When asked for comment about Louis and the $5,000, Hardin didn't answer those questions and instead ripped the new plaintiff's credibility, saying she has a vendetta against Watson and has "been acting crazy about Deshaun since November of 2020."

Two grand juries considered 10 combined complaints filed against Watson but declined to indict him on criminal charges. In a previous statement, Hardin noted that only three of the lawsuits “involve any allegation of force.” The others generally describe encounters in which they say Watson exposed himself and caused his genitals to touch them.

“As we’ve said, as Deshaun has insisted under oath, each of those three occasions were consensual and instituted by the women,” Hardin’s statement said last week.

The women say it wasn’t consensual, and one of the three plaintiffs who accuses Watson of sexual assault or coercion is described as the cousin of Louis.

The newest plaintiff said in her lawsuit “she could not refuse Watson as a client because of her boss Dionne Louis.” 

Watson recently was traded from the Houston Texans to the Browns, which gave him a record guaranteed contract of $230 million over five years.

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