Illicit Massage Shops Targeted in Sacramento

We’ve all seen them; the small, dark store-fronts with blackened windows advertising “massage” popping up in many strip centers.  Notably different than health spas or legitimate massage operations, these shady fronts are often covers for illicit goings-on including prostitution and even human trafficking.

On May 28, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve changes to the Business License code that will assist in preventing these illicit businesses from proliferating. The new ordinance, effective in early July and applicable to the unincorporated County, will prohibit the approval of massage business licenses for a period of one year in any location where a previous massage establishment had been closed due to illicit activity.

“The old ‘revolving door’ method of dealing with massage parlors wasn’t working, “said District 3 Supervisor Susan Peters. “As soon as the Sheriff’s Department closed down an illegal operation, it would reopen under a relative’s name.  With the growing number of potentially illicit operations in our neighborhoods, we had to do something to stop the cycle while avoiding negative impacts to legitimate massage operations.” 

To break the cycle of “ownership flips,” the ordinance provides that if a massage operation is closed down for illicit activity the property owner will be barred from leasing to another massage business, but free to lease to any other type of business allowed in that land use zone.  A review of the licensing history of several trouble spot locations indicated that no legitimate massage business had attempted to occupy the premises after an illicit one was closed.  Because there is no evidence legitimate massage businesses backfill space formerly occupied by illicit ones, the ordinance will not harm the legitimate industry. The restriction should reduce the blight and neighborhood issues that arise from illicit activity and encourage property owners to lease to other types of businesses.

“This is not a quick fix, but it is a step in our ongoing efforts to begin reducing these bad apples and keep our neighborhoods safe,” Peters added.

On April 29, the County Sheriff’s Department North Area Problem Oriented Policing (POP) Team raided 10 massage parlors that were under investigation, which resulted in the arrest of seven people.  Their business licenses and permits were taken as evidence and resulted in their temporary closure.

“Having this new ordinance will help us in our efforts to permanently close these illicit businesses,” said Sheriff Jones of the County Sheriff Department. 

There are also building and safety issues for the employees as well as patrons, often times makeshift walls and renovations are made to the office space to accommodate the massage operation with no permits and little regard for safety. “Improper or makeshift installation, electrical and heating set-ups and insufficient plumbing capacity makes these illicit businesses a threat to public health and safety with a high potential for starting a fire,” said Brian Washko, Chief Building Official.