Regulating massage parlors

Only state-licensed professionals would be allowed under potential city ordinance

Springfield officials are crafting an ordinance to crack down on sites of suspected prostitution promoted as Asian massage parlors or spas.

Springfield Police Chief Kenneth Scarlette told Illinois Times that the ordinance would require establishments offering broadly defined massage services to register with the city. And only state-certified massage therapists or other state-licensed professionals would be allowed to perform those services.

"That's a future ordinance I foresee coming here which will regulate the businesses that want to use the title," Scarlette said. "Our goal is to ensure that there are no illegal houses of prostitution operating throughout our community, and if the public is aware of those happening, they need to notify the police department."

The potential ordinance, which is expected to be introduced May 21 and voted on by the Springfield City Council in coming weeks, is in response to concerns about the proliferation in recent years of massage parlors – some in residential neighborhoods – suspected of offering sexual services.

click to enlarge Regulating massage parlors
PHOTO BY DEAN OLSEN.
Hawthorne Place neighborhood residents Lindsey Trojahn and her husband, Ben, shown here in front of the now-closed Golden Relax massage parlor at 452 South Grand Ave. W., say they were upset when the establishment opened in their Springfield neighborhood earlier this year and hope it doesn’t reopen.

The establishments employ women from other countries who are victims of human trafficking and often live where they work, according to documents filed in Springfield's U.S. District Court.

Springfield resident Greg Fraase, 60, faces felony charges in two different federal indictments for allegedly conspiring to operate prostitution sites at multiple Asian massage parlors in Springfield and in Washington, Illinois. Fraase has pleaded not guilty and has been released pending the outcome of the cases.

Also indicted were two women who allegedly worked with Fraase to operate the sites – a woman of Chinese descent named Rao Guangxiang, who is being held in the Kankakee County Jail, and a Chinese woman named Jia Liu who hasn't been apprehended.

Greg Moredock, the lawyer who heads the city's legal department, wouldn't comment on whether a massage parlor ordinance is in the works.

But before he worked for the city, Moredock helped craft an ordinance for Chatham that village officials adopted in November 2019 in response to an Asian massage parlor raided by the FBI that same month.

Research to write the ordinance for the Sangamon County village of 14,400 people began when Chatham police and the FBI initiated an investigation that led to the raid of Rainbow Massage in the 300 block of Williams Lane, Chatham Police Chief Vernon Foli said.

That establishment and another in Chatham, Queen Spa Massage, closed for good shortly after the raid, and no similar establishments have opened since then in the village, the chief said.

The possibility of an ordinance to help deal with the situation in Springfield was welcome news to residents of the historic Hawthorne Place neighborhood, though some said they wish the city would act quicker.

"The massage parlors are an issue all over the city," said Jim Huston, 76, a retired librarian who has lived in the neighborhood for 36 years. "We have struggled to keep the neighborhood as it was originally imagined. ... For me, the question really is about city planning, or the lack of it."

The neighborhood, with streets named after famous authors, covers several blocks near downtown and just south of South Grand Avenue West, between Whittier Avenue on the east, Holmes Avenue on the west and West Laurel Street on the south.

The neighborhood was the site of April 11 raids by Springfield police of two Asian massage parlors apparently not connected with Fraase, Guangxiang or Liu. Search warrants were served at Golden Relax at 452 South Grand Ave. W. and 88 Relaxing Massage at 526 South Grand Ave. W.

No arrests were made, and no criminal charges have resulted from the investigation into what a police department news release called "allegations of prostitution occurring at both locations." The release said, "the investigation into these establishments and others is ongoing."

Both establishments closed for about a week after the raid but then reopened, to the chagrin of neighbors. Golden Massage's large sign in its front yard was removed after the raid, and the business now is closed again, according to a man who identified himself only as "Steve" when an Illinois Times reporter rang the front doorbell May 14.

Steve said he is a friend of the building's owner, Xiaolin Ding, who Steve said splits his time living at the building and the home of a relative in Chicago. Ding wasn't home, and, according to Steve, Ding hasn't said whether Golden Massage would reopen.

Neighborhood resident Lauren Lumsden, 35, a dental office worker, said residents are frustrated because “nobody’s doing anything” about the situation. “People are dragging their feet,” she said.


The two parlors serve only women and take only cash, according to neighborhood residents who said they have called the businesses to investigate on their own. The Asian women working inside are seldom seen leaving, neighbors said, and women were spotted outside Golden Massage in robes and sandals when the raid was going on.


“My No. 1 concern is the safety of the women,” Lumsden said.

Neighbors said men of all ages, some driving nice cars and one identified as a physician, were seen coming and going at the two massage parlors. Many of the patrons park along the residential streets rather than in the parking spaces behind the establishments, according to neighbors.

Some neighbors have posted photos of the men and the license plates of their cars on Facebook. Lumsden said she tracked down the identity of one patron who drives a pickup truck with a sign that says he's a supporter of former President Donald Trump.

Lumsden said she wrote the caption under one photo of the man next to his vehicle that reads: "Someone come get your Trump-loving, grandpa Herb from the massage parlor by my house. He's a frequent guest. Doesn't support immigrants, but loves banging them."

Lindsey Trojahn, 41, said she can see the back of Golden Massage's building from her kitchen window. The parlor was open just a month or two before it was raided, but before that, men could be spotted visiting the business all day and sometimes late at night.

"I'm absolutely concerned," said Trojahn, a homemaker. "You definitely have your guard up seeing all that activity."

David Zhang, a real-estate agent who lives on the west side of Springfield, said he owns the building where 88 Relaxing Massage operates. He said he has nothing to do with what goes on there and has told the tenant, who has operated the business for four years, to make sure nothing illegal is taking place. Zhang wouldn't identify the female owner of 88 Massage.

Because of complaints from the neighbors, Zhang said he doesn't plan to allow 88 Massage to renew its lease. He wouldn't say when the lease is up.

He said he checked with his lawyer, and he can't break the lease because the tenant continues to pay rent, and because no criminal charges have been filed.

"It leaves me no option now," Zhang said. "She refuses to leave."

When an Illinois Times reporter stopped by 88 Massage on May 14, an Asian woman who couldn't speak English used a smartphone app that translates English and Chinese to communicate. She declined to be interviewed and said no one was available to talk. Then she used the app to ask the reporter if he would like a massage.

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer at Illinois Times. He can be reached at 217-679-7810, [email protected] or twitter.com/DeanOlsenIT.

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
[email protected], 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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