Forsyth County commissioners are cracking down on illicit activity at massage parlors and spas by changing an ordinance to make penalties harsher and consequences longer for those found in violation of county code.
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At their regular meeting Thursday evening, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to accept changes to the Forsyth County Massage and Spa Establishment Ordinance, which, in part, stems from collaboration with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to curb prostitution and other illegal activities at businesses.
Since January, at least six massage parlor employees have been arrested for prostitution or masturbation for hire after the sheriff’s office conducted several undercover operations.
In late May and early June, the BOC revoked two parlors’ licenses: Edge Massage Therapy LLC, which had two employees arrested during two different compliance sweeps, and Healing Touch, also called BMB Sauna, where an undercover deputy was solicited sexual acts in exchange for cash.
Commissioners passed the original massage and spa ordinance in November 2015, though it did not take effect until January 2016.
“This is an ordinance that has been in effect for some time and has now had some experience out in the field,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard said. “In conjunction with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office as well as with our own experience, we brought it back for some tweaks and actually some hardening up of some of the conditions of the ordinance.
“With respect to the applicant and respect to the permitted sale, we have now modified how long a disqualifying event [for obtaining a license] would last. We had put in there originally if you had a disqualifying event in your background for five years, that would trigger objection; we’ve taken the five-year [requirement] out, and now we’ve gone to ever – not just five years, but ever.”
“Disqualification events” include: the applicant has been convicted of, pleaded guilty to or nolo contendere to specified criminal activity, been declared a nuisance by the courts or had his or her license to operate a spa or massage parlor revoked.
In addition, the county will now require applicants “to furnish a complete set of fingerprints for all persons required to sign the application” that will be sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the FBI.
“The [GBI] will compare the subject’s fingerprints against its criminal file and … if necessary, submit the fingerprints to the [FBI] for comparison with nationwide records,” an amendment says. “The results of the [FBI] check will be returned to the [GBI], which will disseminate the state and national results to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.”
The sheriff’s office will also conduct a criminal investigation into the applicant “detailing all information relating to fingerprinting, criminal history, arrest data and other matters pertinent to law enforcement.”
We don’t care whether you violate the ordinance recklessly or not recklessly – [if] you violate it at all, you’re done.County Attorney Ken Jarrard
The changes also include more detailed work rules, clothing requirements and general operating provisions.
“For instance, we’ve had to add language – and this is mainly based on the sheriff’s office experience in the field – that with respect to employees, no bras, bikini tops, bustiers or like clothing be exposed and no employee may be disrobed in any way to expose various portions of their anatomy,” Jarrard said. “When we were attempting to enforce this, some of us struggled with this ‘recklessly’ language with respect to multiple violations.
“I think the consensus of the board was we don’t care whether you violate the ordinance recklessly or not recklessly – [if] you violate it at all, you’re done, so we’ve removed that [language].”
The ordinance already includes a prohibition of regular beds at parlors, which Edge Massage and others were found to have violated.
During its revocation hearing on June 1, Edge Massage’s licensee, Yong Won Pak, claimed the bed was a misunderstanding and that it was actually a wider table for larger customers.
The board did not accept the explanation at the time.
“You will also see that no employee may assist the customer in showering,” Jarrard said. “It seems self-evident, but nonetheless, the sheriff’s [office] has encountered those sorts of conduct.
“The point is, these tweaks are all based upon something that is on a piece of paper and something that is actually being employed in the real world, so we’re bringing the ordinance back before [the board] to hopefully make it better and more enforceable.”
The changes go into effect immediately, Jarrard said.