- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

Montgomery County, Md. police and health inspectors yesterday began a crackdown on massage parlors that are believed to be fronts for prostitution.
By today, the effort was expected to have closed as many as six businesses billed as spas or gyms that cover sex-for-hire operations.
Undercover brothels had found it easy to operate in Montgomery County because of a loophole allowing health clubs registered with the state to employ unlicensed massage providers.
The crackdown was driven by outraged residents fed up with the threat such establishments posed in their Wheaton, Bethesda, Rockville and Gaithersburg neighborhoods.
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said the multi-agency campaign will continue until officials have inspected 23 establishments suspected of employing women to provide sex under the guise of offering clients massage treatment.
Police said that almost everyone seen entering the suspected businesses was male, and that one woman who ventured inside a Wheaton massage parlor said she was greeted by a female in a nightgown.
Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said the businesses "almost enslave" workers, who often are recent immigrants desperate for work.
At least three female massage parlor employees testified in December that they had no massage training, prosecutors said.
In an October raid on a "spa," police found cubicles and a shower equipped with massage tables, mattresses on the floor and a stash of condoms.
Shutting down such businesses is made easier by a new county law that requires massage providers not certified by the state's chiropractic board to obtain licenses from the Montgomery County Health Department.
Although license applications were sent to businesses subject to the new regulation two months ago, none has applied, Mr. Duncan said.
The law introduced by Mr. Duncan and supported by all nine County Council members prohibits providers who lack state certification as therapists from massaging a client of the opposite sex.
It also subjects uncertified massage providers and their employers to fingerprint, photo and background checks.
Business owners also must maintain registries of clients, provide "massage history," and comply with various health and zoning regulations. Violations can draw fines up to $1,000 and license revocation.
Charles L. Short, Montgomery County's health and human services director, said the measure will help prevent the physical and emotional damage such businesses inflict. It will also protect the reputations of legitimate massage therapists, who must undergo 500 hours of state-approved training and pass national exams to be certified, he said.
Mr. Duncan said county officials and police will watch closely to prevent prostitution rings from hiding behind other fronts.

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