Some area massage parlors have rubbed local residents the wrong way.
Now, the town of Secaucus is poised to crack down on businesses that allegedly operate as fronts for prostitution after police made a second prostitution bust in as many months.
On Dec. 2 at around 12:36 p.m., two women, Piao Yihua, 27, and Li Meishan, 37, were arrested by Secaucus Police at the Garden Health Spa in an undercover sting operation, according to Det. Sgt. Thomas O’Keefe. Meishan, of Flushing, New York, was charged with promoting prostitution, while Yihua, also of Flushing, was charged with engaging in prostitution.
Adult businesses have taken prostitution off the streets and into office buildings.
And in May 2009, a man and a woman were arrested at an acupuncture business in the 1300 block of Paterson Plank Road for allegedly “engaging in sexual activity in the capacity of prostitution,” Det. Sgt. John Buckley told the Reporter at the time of the arrests. Three other women were arrested at the scene for allegedly promoting prostitution. One of these women was also charged with allegedly maintaining a business for the purposes of prostitution.
‘You might want to look into this’
At least some of this alleged activity has been noticed by members of the public, who have contacted local authorities.
“We had a couple of calls from residents after that one business [Garden Health Spa] opened in the old Weichert Realtors office,” said Town Administrator David Drumeler last week. “We periodically get anonymous e-mails from folks saying, ‘You might want to look into this.’ ”
Located at 1317 Paterson Plank Road, Garden Health Spa – where the most recent police bust took place – has an innocuous-sounding name, and one online ad for the business promotes its sauna and Swedish- and shiatsu-style massages, typical services at many spas. But the ad also promotes its “pretty Asian masseuses” and features photos of scantily clad young women in provocative poses.
These ads appeared on the New Jersey section of Backpage.com, a website that advertises “adult services” online and in local newspapers. Last month ads on the same site tipped off law enforcement to alleged prostitution at a Secaucus hotel, O’Keefe said.
Despite the recent arrests in town, at least two other Secaucus-based businesses featured ads last week on Backpage.com that were similar to those posted by Garden Health Spa.
When the Reporter called Garden Health Spa last Wednesday, a woman who answered the phone and said the business was still open but did not want to answer additional questions because, she said, “My English is very poor.” She promised to have another employee call back to answer questions. An unidentified man representing the business later returned the call, but refused to answer questions about the recent arrests.
Town officials will next month introduce an ordinance to crack down on bodywork businesses that allegedly double as fronts for prostitution.
“We want to get ahead of the curve and give our police more tools to investigate businesses that may be just fronts for illegal activity, while at the same time not punishing legitimate spas,” Drumeler said.
The town plans to use a similar ordinance that was passed in Little Ferry in July as a model for its own proposed law.
Under the Little Ferry ordinance, only those who have been licensed can advertise themselves as massage therapists or bodyworkers and must be registered with the borough. This registration requirement includes fingerprinting and a background check by the Little Ferry Police Department. In addition, registrants must sign sworn statements that they have not been convicted of any sexual, obscenity, or indecency crimes within the past five years. Therapists are required to renew their Little Ferry registrations annually.
The Secaucus ordinance will be introduced next month, Drumeler stated, after the newly elected Town Council members are sworn in, and after he has had a chance to get input from the Police Department and the owner of a legitimate local spa that offers facials, manicures, pedicures, and waxing services.
On the run to Secaucus?
Adult businesses that have taken prostitution off the streets and into office buildings, all with the help of the internet, have been a problem lately for law enforcement throughout northern New Jersey.
But a few municipalities have made a number of high profile arrests over the past two years and these businesses may be looking for opportunities in other towns, including Secaucus. West New York, for instance, had a string of prostitution busts early this year.
Operators may see Secaucus as ripe for business, given its easy access to Route 3, the New Jersey Turnpike, and New York City.
“I don’t know if that’s the case or not. But from their perspective it makes sense,” Drumeler said. “But we want to protect our family friendly environment and make it difficult, if not impossible, for these businesses to take root here.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.