October 24, By Tara Law
A new bill has been filed in the state senate that aims to clamp down on massage therapy businesses that are fronts for prostitution.
State Sen. Jose Peralta, who introduced the bill on Oct. 13, said that there has been a proliferation of businesses offering massages in the Jackson Heights/Corona area in recent years and his bill wants to root out nefarious players.
“It’s gone from one or two here and there, to well over a dozen,” Peralta said.
Peralta’s bill would require any business that offers massages—such as some spas– to register with the state much like a nail salon or hair salon business must do.
As the law stands, only the operator as an individual—not the business entity—must register and that is with the Department of Education, a credentialing body. Furthermore, all the employees who work for that operator don’t need to be licensed.
Peralta said that he was shocked to learn that businesses that offer massages are not required to register with the state.
“People just assume— including myself— that there is enforcement,” said Peralta.
If signed into law, the bill would require all massage therapy businesses to register with the state. Those businesses would then be added to an online database, and it would be easier to shut down bad entities.
Businesses that fail to register would be fined as much as $2,500, and the owner could face jail time.
Peralta said that the new law would allow the public to check for themselves to see if a business is legitimate, and would enable law enforcement to keep a closer eye on those spas where massages are offered.
Peralta said that he has received complaints from the community, but that he has seen for himself the proliferation of suspicious massage parlors in recent years.
He said that he personally has been approached by people advertising the spas, and that he noticed the advertisers only seem to approach men.
Peralta said that when he was walking late in the evening with male relatives a few weeks ago, he was handed a promotional card for a massage parlor. He was disturbed to read how late the business was kept open.
“When you see a spa open at one o’clock in the morning, it kind of sets off bells and whistles that something’s going on,” Peralta said. “It’s like an underground economy. If you’re not paying attention to these things, you’re not going to notice.”
Peralta said that the program would operate much like the State Liquor Authority, which funds itself through registration fees and fines. Businesses that offer massages would be required to pay a $60 processing fee to register.
The bill is currently in committee, and is expected to be voted on when the Senate begins a new legislative session in January. Peralta said that he hopes that bill can become a law by next June.
On Oct. 12, the Jackson Heights Post reported that Oshi’s Spa Zone, located at 37-40 75th Street in Jackson Heights, was closed for prostitution.