Day spa prostitutes were pushy, Bay Ridge residents say
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
News of a police raid on 12 day spas in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights was greeted with cheers and sighs of relief by residents and civic leaders in the two communities.
“I am so pleased and so grateful to the district attorney,” said Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann, reacting to the July 11 announcement by Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that 19 arrests were made for prostitution and other charges after 12 day spas were raided the previous day.
Beckmann was among the local officials who attended a press conference Hynes held in his downtown Brooklyn office to announce the crackdown.
Residents had long suspected that the spas were fronts for illegal activity, Beckmann said. “Our office used to receive regular and sustained complaints about these places. We received several complaints a week,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
People started calling the community board office as soon as they noticed that the day spas, which many suspected were really massage parlors, started popping up all over the neighborhood within the last year. At least six spas have opened since the beginning of this year, local officials said.
“It shows you that the residents of our community are really sharp,” Beckmann added. The community board handed the complaints to the DA’s office and the Police Department.
The day spa “girls” were brazen, residents told Beckmann. “We used to get reports of sidewalk solicitations. They would solicit customers right on the sidewalk,” she said.
The spas also found customers through ads on www.craigslist.com and other websites, officials said.
Residents reported seeing scantily clad young women congregating on the sidewalk in front of the spas. Also arousing suspicion was the fact that many of the spas were open late at night.
Fran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, called the arrests “a step in the right direction” and said she hoped authorities would continue to move forward with the investigation.
Vella-Marrone, who noted that a few of the places raided by investigators are located on 13th Avenue, the main shopping strip of Dyker Heights, said such businesses are a plague on the community. “They are not legitimate businesses and they can hurt the quality of life in our community,” she told the Eagle.
Prostitution breeds drugs and violence, Vella-Marrone said. “It breeds other types of crimes along with it,” she said.
“I applaud the DA for taking action,” she added.
The arrests were the result of a joint investigation conducted by the Special Investigations Unit in Hynes’s office and the Brooklyn South Vice Unit of the NYPD, authorities said. The operation used physical surveillance, undercover detectives, and search warrants and revealed evidence not only of prostitution, but of violations of Worker’s Compensation laws, as well as the violations of health and safety and zoning regulations, Hynes said.
“Today we are sending a very strong and simple message: businesses like these have no place in our family oriented community,” Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said. “And while we encourage small businesses to open and flourish here, we will not stand for any business that engages in illegal activities or breaks the law. Plain and simple, establishments like these are an embarrassment to and a scourge on our neighborhoods,” he said.
Gentile's office had also received numerous complaints from local residents. Gentile and his staff turned the complaints over the the DA's office and the councilman called for an investigation into the spas.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) said the raids illustrate “just how rampant prostitution has become in our community.”
Malliotakis applauded Hynes and Kelly for their “swift and decisive action,” and said local officials “will continue to work with our community boards, residents and law enforcement to identify these seedy establishments and rid their criminal element from Bay Ridge and all of Brooklyn.”
Gentile called the arrests “a big victory for our community.”