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Queens Chronicle

Illicit massage parlors in pol’s crosshairs

Sen. Peralta intros bill to mandate state licenses for the businesses

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Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2017 10:30 am

Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights is widely regarded as a hotbed of prostitution and human trafficking. And state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) wants to give law enforcement another tool to crack down on businesses acting as a front for the problem.

The lawmaker has introduced legislation mandating massage parlors to get a license from the New York Department of State that allows them to operate, a practice required for many businesses. According to Peralta, some — but not all, he emphasized — of the parlors are fronts for prostitution. One thing he pointed out about some of the businesses is that people on the street pass out cards for them late at night.

“The legitimate places are open from, like, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” the senator told the Chronicle. “These folks are open late at night. In particular over the weekend; one o’clock in the morning, they’re still operating.”

Many constituents weary of the massage parlors have complained about them to his office, Peralta added.

His bill would make massage parlors get four-year licenses from the state, which they would have to display, showing customers that they are complying with the regulation. The businesses would also have to get a bond or liability insurance.

Massage parlors operating without the license will not be taken lightly: The punishment could be paying $2,500 and spending six months behind bars.

“It will give [Queens District Attorney Richard Brown], the NYPD, and, of course, [New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman] more teeth to go after these businesses that seem to be fronts,” the senator explained.

Peralta says that he’ll have a co-sponsor in Albany’s lower chamber by January. “We’re talking to Assembly members now,” he added.

Human trafficking is a problem closely linked with prostitution; experts have singled out Roosevelt Avenue in Corona and Jackson Heights and the Downtown Flushing area as places where that problem is especially acute.

Peralta said that because of the Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Kew Gardens and the district attorney’s approach to the problem, cracking down on illicit massage parlors would also be good for attacking the issue.

“Flushing and Roosevelt Avenue are two locations where many of the victims of human trafficking end up,” the senator explained. “So, we want to be able to help them and register the legitimate massage therapy businesses.”

Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), who represents Downtown Flushing, told the Chronicle that he would support the bill.

“I think we need to send a strong message to people who are exploiting this industry to do something other than they should be,” the lawmaker said in an interview. “And I think it’s spreading like fire throughout the City of New York, so we should definitely push back.”

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