- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2001

Two months after Montgomery County cracked down on massage parlors believed to be fronts for prostitution, several are back in business with little indication of change beyond their employees' newly acquired state licenses and steeper hourly rates.
County officials said some suspected parlors went out of business when the county started enforcing an ordinance that requires massage parlors either to get state certification or else submit to strict county regulations.
Those regulations include checking backgrounds of those employed to give massages, fingerprinting them and only allowing them to massage people of the same sex. The ordinance, submitted by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan in May, also required owners to record the names of their customers in a client registry.
At least three massage parlors, however, simply chose the first option to become state-certified, which put them beyond the reach of local authorities and allowed them to reopen.
"Illegitimate companies are having their prostitutes go through the [state certification] training, and we can't touch them they're abusing the state law," said David Weaver, spokesman for Mr. Duncan.
"This is prostitution, plain and simple," Mr. Weaver said.
Last year, employees of the Spa Capri parlor in Wheaton were arrested for prostitution after an undercover police investigation. The Sea Capri closed its business on Amherst Avenue after the crackdown began several weeks ago. Last Monday, another parlor opened on the same premises.
"We haven't given up our efforts to make it very difficult [for illegal massage parlors], but this is not an easy problem to solve," he said.
In visits last week, on Oct. 18 and 19 to three locations where suspected parlors have reopened Shady Grove Gym & Spa in Rockville, MiSun Therapy in Wheaton and Ultima in Germantown a reporter for The Washington Times found the front doors at two of them locked during posted business hours, and in all cases had to ring a doorbell for an attendant to appear.
At Shady Grove Gym and Spa, the woman who answered the doorbell did so by opening a small window in the wall. She said she did not work there, could not give any information about membership or services and did not know when the manager would be in.
A woman wearing short shorts and slippers answered the front door of the MiSun massage parlor, the only door in the business complex to have a peephole. The woman declined to give her full name and would only identify herself as "Chung."
Both MiSun and Ultima disclosed their fees, saying they charge $100 for a one-hour massage, which is well above the average $60 an hour charged for massages given by physical therapists who work for insurance-approved clinics.
Miss "Chung" said the new, higher rates were imposed because it had become "very hard to get a license" after the county crackdown.
It is easy for neighboring businesses to see what Mr. Weaver is talking about when he refers to the parlors as fronts, and not health clubs, as some advertise themselves.
First, they see only men entering and leaving the parlors.
"Never see women never see anyone on the exercise equipment," said Kevin Boink, manager of an aquarium shop next to Shady Grove Gym and Spa.
"My girlfriend went over there on a lark one time, and they shut the door in her face," Mr. Boink said.
Owners of three parlors have filed a lawsuit against the county in protest of the crackdown, but may drop the suit now that licenses have been granted to their employees who give massages, said Rockville attorney Steven Van Grack, who represents the plaintiffs the Ultima, VIP and Epictone massage parlors.
One of the three owners is Paul Goodall, an instructor at James Madison University's Department of Integrated Science and Technology.
In 30 minutes Thursday night, three men were the only persons who entered or exited Shady Grove Gym and Spa except for a woman in a sheer dress who, laughing, escorted a well-dressed man to his sport utility vehicle.
At Ultima, all who entered or left during an hourlong stretch were men. Mr. Goodall calls this typical. "Yes, our clientele is male some spas' clienteles are primarily female," he said.
The woman who opened the locked door at Ultima continued to hold it and stand in the threshold as she talked to a Times reporter.
Identifying herself only as "Jane" she said the business was "out of gift certificates" and that "everyone [was] busy" and had no time to talk or show off the club's facilities that lay beyond the idle exercise equipment.
Yet someone took time to peer through drawn blinds and watch for several minutes until the reporter left.
Mr. Goodall said the woman called him soon after. He said the door is locked at Ultima because there are few employees and no receptionist.
"The reason was she was nervous she thought you were either a cop or a reporter," Mr. Goodall said.
Asked why she would be nervous if, as he had said, Ultima's massage providers are all licensed, and have nothing to hide, Mr. Goodall replied that the workers have been treated badly by the press and police. He said none of his employees has engaged in illicit acts. "That's certainly not what we are doing and I don't condone it," he said.
Jim Savage, a lawyer representing the county in the lawsuit, said simply getting state certification won't protect suspected parlors if they break Maryland's regulations and that means massages cannot be performed on naked customers.
Are the parlors abiding by the state's rules? A woman who answered a man's telephone call to MiSun Thursday night volunteered that "shower massage" was among services available.
"With shorts on or off?" the man asked.
"Up to you," the woman at MiSun said.
Mr. Duncan introduced his bill on May 1, the same day Montgomery County prosecutors dropped prostitution charges against five women who worked at the Kona massage parlor in Bethesda.
County police came under fire during the Kona investigation for paying informers to engage in sexual acts.

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