By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The arrests of 19 people on prostitution-related charges at day spas in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights last week were just the beginning, officials said.
The arrests, which came after police and detectives from Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office raided 12 day spas on July 10, were the first phase of an ongoing investigation that began a year ago, according to a statement issued by the DA’s office.
“We are committed to stopping the illegal activities of these criminal locations and to restoring confidence and safety to the communities involved. I will continue the fight against promoting prostitution, as well as all the crimes that flow from these activities,” Hynes said.
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. The operation used surveillance, undercover detectives, and search warrants. In addition to evidence that the day spas were offering customers much more than just massages and reflexology, investigators found violations of Worker’s Compensation laws, Hynes said.
Concerns have been raised about the treatment of the young women working in the establishments and whether they are the victims of sex trafficking. The DA’s Sex Trafficking Unit and Victim Services Unit is working with women’s advocacy groups, including Safe Horizons and the New York Asian Women’s Center, to consider the status of each young woman arrested for prostitution so that appropriate programs and services can be made available to them, Hynes said.
State Sen. Marty Golden said community residents showed remarkable patience during the investigation. “I know that people wanted these places shut down as fast as possible. But when you investigate a crime like this, it takes time. You have to send undercover people there. A money offer has to be made. It doesn’t happen one, two, three,” Golden, a retired cop, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Golden praised Hynes and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. “They did a great job. We closed down a lot of places,” he said.
Residents of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights had long suspected that the spas were fronts for illegal activity, according to Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10. “We received several complaints a week,” she said.
Golden said that when reports first surfaced of the influx of suspicions day spa, he set up a meeting between community board leaders and officials from the DA’s office “so that everybody was on the same page.”
The day spas popped up rapidly in commercial areas in the two communities, including Fifth Avenue, over the past year, local officials said. At least six of the spas have opened since the beginning of this year, officials said.
Also arousing suspicions was the fact that many of the spas had darkened windows and were open late at night. Residents reported seeing scantily clad young women congregating on the sidewalk in front of the spas.
The Bay Ridge Courier reported last month that a few of the spas sought customers through racy ads on Craigslist and other websites.
Golden urged residents to continue to report any suspicious activity in the neighborhood. “What we have to do is continue to go after these individuals. The people of this community are the eyes and ears of the community. If they see something, they should say something,” he said.
Golden said he is also planning to introduce legislation to make it harder for illicit businesses to open. Under his proposal, there would be strict licensing rules imposed by the state and city, including a requirement that all massage parlor workers be licensed as therapists, before day spas could open for business. “We want businesses to open in our community. But we want legal businesses. We want the real thing,” he said.
For a complete list of the day spas raided by police as well as a list of the suspects, visit www.brooklynda.org.