Brooklyn State Sen. Martin Golden and NY State Assemblywoman (Brooklyn, Staten Island) Nicole Malliotakis, stood outside Shirley Day Spa, which was recently shut down, in Bay Ridge, August 2 to talk about their proposed bill.
Shirley Day Spa was shut in July in a bust of 12 Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights day spas, and 19 Chinese people were arrested for unauthorized practice of a profession. Five of the people arrested also faced prostitution-related charges. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said the spas were unconnected.
Golden said he estimates about 30 spas, between Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, had been operating as fronts for brothels. He said police were still carrying out investigations and more arrests were likely.
Human Trafficking in Brooklyn
Malliotakis said many of the people arrested in the July bust, were not U.S. citizens, and many did not have legal status. She said human trafficking is a serious problem in New York, often affecting immigrant populations.
“They are often threatened with deportation. They are also frequently promised a better job, or a better life, and so they are sucked into this trade,” she said.
Golden said New York State does not deport women for prostitution, and non-profit organizations often help women charged with prostitution gain asylum in the U.S.
NYPD and the Kings County District Attorney’s Office started investigating day spas in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights after residents complained to Community Board 10 more than a year ago.
Fran Vella-Marrone, chair of the Police and Public Safety Committee for Community Board 10 and president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, said residents were upset about illicit activities that they believed had been happening in day spas in the area.
“They were observing at all hours of the night, men going in and out. Nobody else going in there—that the place was dark, and not welcoming.
“And there were actually people that reported to us that they went in there [to day spas] with legitimate reasons and were solicited,” she said.
She said residents had also complained about local day spas posting raunchy advertisements on Craigslist.
She estimated that these illicit day spas had really taken off in the area in the last two years.
“These places have just been popping up out of nowhere. I mean obviously you don’t need that many spas in this community. It didn’t seem right,” she said.
“They’re open all hours. I mean, I don’t think you need a day spa open that late,” she said. “It just wasn’t making sense,” she said.
John Quaglione, deputy chief of staff for Sen. Ray Riley, said he also heard residents complaining about the day spas.
Around midday August 1, a woman called Riley’s office with a complaint about Linda Day Spa, on 5th Avenue, between 81st and 82nd streets.
The female caller, who lives at 81st Street, told Quaglione that she went to buy milk at the corner store around midnight Wednesday, and saw girls sitting on the bench at the bus stop outside Linda Day Spa.
She told Quaglione that the girls were all wearing provocative clothing and eating dinner.
“It didn’t look like they were going home anytime soon,” Quaglione said, referring to what the caller had described to him.
Golden Leads Media to Suspected Brothel
Golden overheard Quaglione’s story, and decided to walk about three blocks, from the closed day spa, to Linda Day Spa to take a look for himself.
As media, following Golden, swarmed outside the day spa, a young Chinese girl sat behind the spa’s reception desk, looking very uncomfortable.
Golden said his office had been receiving complaints from residents about day spas as recently as last night.
Behind Golden, inside Linda Day Spa, advertisements on the large windows at the entrance called for women 19 years and older who want full- or part-time jobs.
The new bill would allow authorities to close a day spa when there is a pattern of noise or disorder on a licensed premises, similar to laws that currently apply to bars.
Day spas would be closed if the operator is convicted of a felony offense.
Spas could not operate between midnight and 5 a.m., unless the spa was operated in a hotel or other special circumstances. Breaking the curfew would be a misdemeanor, with a $500 fine or prison sentence. A second violation within five years would become a class E felony.
If the operator’s license was revoked, they would not be able to obtain a new license in the same county for five years.
Two or more convictions for prostitution would allow authorities to close the premises and also take the owner’s assets (asset forfeiture).
The bill would also require day spas to post a toll-free number where patrons, and employees can report human trafficking. The notice would be translated into multiple languages.
Golden said he expected the legislation to be passed some time between January and March next year.