Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Oldest Profession in New Suburban Digs By ALLAN RICHTER

Oldest Profession in New Suburban Digs New York times
Published: November 03, 2002
Correction Appended

THE Suffolk County police officers who raided the Rainbow massage parlor in early August thought they would be able to shutter the Coram establishment for good by arresting three women on prostitution-related charges and carting away several makeshift beds, 47 condoms and $2,350.

But the massage parlor, operating in an old television repair shop with no sign advertising its more arcane business, was up and running again less than a week later at its usual busy commercial intersection, opposite a Home Depot on Route 112. So, six days after the first sting, the police raided the place again.

''These people get arrested, they get an appearance ticket for a court date and they build new wooden massage tables,'' said Sgt. James Kearns of the sixth precinct crime unit in Coram. ''They're just two-by-fours with plywood and mattresses over the wood, and it's not hard to get more condoms and towels and whatnot.''

The police say prostitutes on Long Island consider the prospect of getting arrested an acceptable and temporary hazard of the job. That increased brazenness has compounded what the authorities say is a sharp increase in prostitution on the Island, much if not most of it practiced in massage parlors staffed by an overflow from Asian communities in Queens.


Until this year, arrests of prostitutes and massage parlor managers on the Island had been declining steadily since 1998, Nassau and Suffolk police data show. The 335 arrests this year through August, however, have already surpassed the 316 total for all of 2001. Suffolk has seen the biggest increase, with more than twice the number of arrests in Nassau this year.

The police attribute the change to a combination of urban sprawl and easier working conditions. Most prostitutes arrested on the Island are from Asian communities in Queens, they say, adding that the police in Queens have had more experience cracking down on massage parlors.

''We put a lot of heat on them here in Queens, so maybe they feel they can go out on Long Island and get away with it,'' said Lt. Michael Sheehan of the New York Police Department's Queens vice unit.

Another theory is that prostitutes perceived that the police would be lax about quality-of-life crimes after 9/11. Nassau, for example, saw a sudden jump in prostitution right after the attacks.

''It mostly started in the last three months of 2001 and was prevalent right through the summer of this year,'' said Lt. John Wolff, commander of Nassau's narcotics and vice bureau. ''Now we've been successfully putting a few of them out of business and shutting them up so it's quieting down a little bit.''

The brothels hide in plain sight, blending in with surrounding businesses and residences. In one of the more infamous current cases on the Island, Stuart Roll, 70, was on trial last week accused of running a brothel from his home in a leafy Dix Hills neighborhood. Most of the Asian brothels assume fronts like nail salons or legitimate spas with bright neon signs. Others are in nondescript apartments in mixed-use neighborhoods or behind plain concrete storefronts with no signs.

The police say the brothels rely on word of mouth or on the ''entertainment guide'' listing in the Newsday classified ads.

At a Hicksville business called Ginza that placed a classified ad, an Asian woman who identified herself as Jo did not mind managing the business in front of a reporter on a recent Friday evening, but declined to answer questions.

She showed where she ushered men into a dimly lighted reception area filled with the pungent smell of burning incense. In adjacent rooms with beds were four younger Asian women wearing matching silky lingerie, each a different bright color.

The madam answered a cordless phone that didn't seem to stop ringing. She told the callers they would have to pay $60 for one hour and offered directions to the operation, on the first floor of a small multifamily house near a gas station on Old Country Road. Behind her desk, a machete leaned against a pastel wall. A small Buddha sat amid candles in a makeshift shrine nearby.

Neighbors of massage parlors say the seemingly endless stream of cars and men is a dead giveaway to what's going on inside.

''They're running a pretty good business over there,'' said Oniel Lawrence, 40, assistant manager at a Smithtown transmission shop on Jericho Turnpike, nodding toward an alleged brothel just before the police shut it down this summer. ''They get more customers than us.''

The business advertised in the newspaper as Lucky Salon but removed a storefront sign after the first of three police raids this year. The establishment has become a lightning rod for authorities seeking new ways to combat the proliferating massage parlors.

Walter Justincic, a Suffolk police officer, said the third arrest this year of Kyung Lee Tran, a Queens resident, on prostitution charges at Lucky Salon frustrated him enough to research whether sharper teeth could be put into prostitution laws.

''It was 2 o'clock in the morning and it dawned on me that I was still in the middle of paperwork while she was probably home in bed and going back to work the next day,'' Officer Justincic said.

Ms. Tran, 42, and Yong Ae Cha, 47, both of the same Queens address, were indicted on prostitution, unlicensed massage and conspiracy charges in September. The two women were arrested together during the first police raid on Lucky Salon, in January, and are scheduled to face the charges this week in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead.

Michael LoRusso, a Melville lawyer representing Ms. Tran and Ms. Cha, denied the prostitution charges. On the felony charge of providing massages without a license, he said the women might have offered rubdowns and ''there's nothing that says you can't rub somebody's back.''

Officer Justincic's research turned up what he felt was a gaping hole. It turned out that Smithtown was the only one of Suffolk's five western townships that did not have a public nuisance abatement law enabling the authorities to hold landlords accountable for illegal activities on their properties. So he lobbied the town council, which is expected to adopt the proposed law this month.

Jihad Haddad, landlord and owner of the Lucky Salon property, maintained that he was unaware of the activity there until the police notified him after their third raid. He said he rented the site to an Asian couple ''in their 50's'' believing the property would be used as a nail salon. ''I don't live in the same town,'' said Mr. Haddad, who lives in Huntington, ''so I don't know what they do there.''

Mr. Haddad said he received dozens of calls from prospective tenants, including a psychic and a real estate broker, after the massage parlor was shut in August and he stopped collecting $1,000 in monthly rent. ''I'm afraid to rent it,'' he said. ''I don't know who I'm talking to. Now I'm losing money.''

Because prostitution is a misdemeanor in New York State, public nuisance abatement laws are among an expanding arsenal the police are using to battle the brothels. Prostitutes who offer massages are arrested on felony charges if they are unlicensed as masseuses. Those charges can bring up to four years in jail compared to only three months for prostitution. And the authorities have shuttered massage parlors on building and fire code violations. In the second raid on the Rainbow massage parlor in Coram, for instance, the Brookhaven fire marshal accompanied the police; Rainbow hasn't opened since.

''Most of our success in shutting them down is with the building department because all of these places have done renovations and don't have occupancy permits for putting up walls and the like,'' said Lieutenant Wolff, the commander of the Nassau County vice unit. ''The building departments are able to come in and put pressure on the landlords.''

Lieutenant Wolff said Newsday cooperates by refusing to run classified ads from a business once the police have identified it as an illegal massage parlor.

This summer, the Suffolk police and the county district attorney's office launched a joint investigation into whether a more organized element was behind the county's massage parlors. Both agencies declined to comment, citing a risk to the ongoing investigation.

But Capt. Kevin Grasing, commander of the Queens vice unit, said most of the Asian brothels he has encountered in his seven years with the unit have been independent. He recounted one case two years ago in which three ''loosely organized'' massage parlors tried to bribe the police to remain open.

''We haven't found any kind of traditional organized crime connection'' to the Queens massage parlors, Captain Grasing said. He said New York City's nuisance abatement law was a potent weapon against the ''revolving door justice'' that stems from weak prostitution laws on the books. Under the nuisance law, the police must identify prostitution at a location twice before moving against its landlord and padlocking a site. As of late last month, the Queens vice unit employed the nuisance abatement law 49 times this year, he said.

But Paul Sabatino, counsel to the Suffolk County Legislature, said efforts by Smithtown and other townships to adopt similar laws are wasted and redundant. Mr. Sabatino said the county adopted a nuisance abatement law in 1989, holding landlords accountable for prostitution, gambling, drug dealing and car chop shops. The county can levy fines of up to $1,000 for each day the activity continues, he said.

''Passing a duplicate town law isn't going to stop one of these activities if you don't commit the resources,'' he said.

The police defended deploying more law enforcement resources to combat prostitution, which they said is mistakenly perceived as a victimless crime. ''You come up with heroin, with needles,'' said Lt. William Madigan of the sixth precinct crime section. ''It draws a cross section. You don't know what you're going to get.''

No comments:

Post a Comment