Prostitution case brings Middletown action on massage parlors

Middletown City Council imposed a six-month moratorium on massage therapy businesses on Sept. 15. The city is working to prevent illegal activity that arises from some unlicensed, standalone massage businesses. The moratorium will not affect licensed massage therapy services that are part of other businesses such as beauty salons or spas or chiropractic services. One such business was operating in the Middletown Shopping Center on South Breiel Blvd. that was closed by police last month. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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Middletown City Council imposed a six-month moratorium on massage therapy businesses on Sept. 15. The city is working to prevent illegal activity that arises from some unlicensed, standalone massage businesses. The moratorium will not affect licensed massage therapy services that are part of other businesses such as beauty salons or spas or chiropractic services. One such business was operating in the Middletown Shopping Center on South Breiel Blvd. that was closed by police last month. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Standalone, unlicensed massage therapy or relaxation massage businesses will not receive building permits or certificates of occupancy for the next six months to battle potential illegal activity, Middletown officials said this week.

Middletown City Council on Tuesday approved the six-month moratorium on any permits for these types of businesses. Susan Cohen, city administrative services director said Middletown has recently been dealing with illegal activity at these businesses promoting massage services.

Cohen said she was approached by Middletown police about the issue, and there is one case in Middletown Municipal Court involving two women who were arrested for soliciting prostitution at a business located at 621 N. Breiel Blvd.

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Cohen said the six-month period would give the city to review and update its regulations while preventing new standalone businesses to open or the possible reopening of a closed business. She said unless a business operator was convicted of a crime, it may get past a background check conducted as part of the permitting process.

“We want to have good, lawful businesses and none that create police calls,” Cohen said.

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However, the moratorium will not impact legitimate massage therapy business that employ state licensed therapists or who operate as part of a chiropractor’s practice or as part of licensed beauty parlor or spa, she said.

“We want to take a serious look,” Cohen said. “We want to try to prevent reopening the business because it becomes a big police problem.”

Cohen said this is not the first occurrence of this illegal activity and that the city has a handful of these cases annually. Police Chief David Birk said illegal massage parlors create the possibility of human trafficking because the girls or women are rotated out every few weeks.

Birk said Middletown’s proximity to Interstate 75 is a reason illegal businesses are located here.

“No one wants to go to Oxford because it’s too far to go,” he said. “This is one more step to get an ordinance to fight this problem.”

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The latest case is an example of issues faced by police, officials said. On Aug. 21, members of the police Special Operations Unit executed a search warrant at A+/Hong Massage, 621 S. Breiel Blvd. as a result of a lengthy investigation of solicitation and prostitution.

Police entered the business and identified four Asian females inside. The establishment has four total massage rooms, reception area, laundry room, bath room and storage area. Officers recovered $6,398 which included money used in the undercover operation, documents and cell phones.

Two women, Min Yang, 37, of Lockport, Ill., and, Xuemei Li, 29, of Lawrenceville, Ga., also gave the same address at a Middletown address. Both were charged with solicitation, a third-degree misdemeanor. They are are being held at the Middletown City Jail on a holder from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The women will next appear in court on Sept. 25.

Neither woman had any prior cases in Middletown Municipal Court, according to the court’s website. The other two women were released pending additional investigation.

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