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Illicit massage parlor loophole closed by City Council

WHEATON – Thanks to what Wheaton City Attorney James Knippen calls a "state legislature-created loophole," some sexually-oriented massage businesses set up shop around the state – including in Wheaton.

"The state requires that massage therapists be licensed by the state. They left a loophole by saying that practitioners of what is referred to as 'Asian bodywork therapies' do not require state licensure," Knippen said in an earlier City Council meeting.

Knippen said that "certain elements" have used the loophole to promote non-legitimate, sexual massage businesses. While that remains illegal, it is possible to work around the law.

A hearing recently took place involving one such business in Wheaton, Knippen said. An employee of the Oriental Spa, Inc. offered to perform a sexual act on an undercover police officer, allowing the city to build a case against the business. The license for the business was revoked effective April 13, 2012, according to City Clerk Sharon Barrett-Hagen.

"It is not a problem unique to Wheaton – it is a problem in a lot of places," he said. "Not to say that all practitioners of Asian bodyworks parlors are doing illegal practices, just some instances."

The City Council moved to close the loophole on June 18 after talking to the state, enacting an ordinance to require those who claim that exemption to prove they intend to practice the specified therapies and have experience in the area. The illicit parlors applying often tried to give shallow backgrounds to prove their legitimacy.

"In the past, they have presented Xerox copies of certificates that, frankly, you could print off the computer and there's no way for the city to verify whether that comes from legitimate institutions."

The city will now be able to ask for fingerprints in background checks, transcripts and contact information from the schools the practitioners were certified at and more. The ordinance also requires that massage parlors take responsibility for their employees' actions instead of allowing them to work as independent contractors.

"The primary drive is not to limit legitimate practitioners of Asian bodywork therapies, but require those who claim that exemption to prove they have the requirements in order to say that's truly an area they practice in," Knippen said, at a recent meeting. "The requirements are extensive, but no more extensive than what you'd look for as an employer if you were looking to hire someone for your business."

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