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Queens Chronicle

Legislation penned to crack down on parlors

Commanding officer, former police captain disagree on massage plan

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Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2016 10:30 am

After months of banging the drum for legislative help when it comes to cracking down on illegal massage parlors, Capt. Mark Wachter, commanding officer of the 104th Precinct, may finally get his wish.

A package of five bills aimed at hampering the ability of such entities to operate illegally was introduced jointly by Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) this week, with Wachter saying it will no longer be easier to close a bagel store than it will be a massage parlor in New York City should the legislation pass.

“We’re happy that it’s coming to fruition,” Wachter said in a Tuesday phone conversation. “Right now the ball is in the hands of the legislators.”

After months of receiving complaints from southwest Queens residents of parlors opening on Myrtle and Metropolitan avenues either without licenses or with a specialty in illicit sexual services, Wachter took action late last year.

A handful of establishments closed after he assigned an officer to sit outside their front door in a police cruiser for days at a time, but Wachter said it wasn’t unusual to see them reopen in another location a short time later.

Other areas especially plagued by illegal massage parlors include Corona, Flushing and Bayside.

But according to Addabbo, the legislation he introduced requiring landlords to verify the license of a prospective massage therapist tenant before entering into a lease agreement — with a violation resulting in a $1,000 fine for the former — could curb the practice.

“No longer can a landlord say they didn’t know the businesses were illegal or illegitimate,” Addabbo said. “I don’t think that’s a lot to ask from a landlord.

“They are a part of our community, they own a building,” he continued. “They should play their part and lease their space to appropriate businesses.”

Other pieces of legislation introduced would require all massage parlors to not obstruct the view into the building’s lobby from the sidewalk; require the licensee of such a venue to be on the premises at all times during business hours and require that landlords evict any parlor proven to have promoted prostitution or operated without a license.

The final bill provides the city Department of Consumer Affairs the full authority to both enforce the provisions and impose fines on problematic locations.

Addabbo credited Wachter with helping brainstorm the pieces of legislation in a meeting with Miller’s staff last month.

“I love how he basically originated these pieces of legislation,” Addabbo said of Wachter. “Sometimes legislators have the ideas, but oftentimes the ideas come from people within the community and he’s done an incredible job. That’s why I give a lot of credit to Capt. Wachter.”

Wachter said giving the Department of Consumer Affairs the ability to actually do its job of keeping illegal parlors closed is a victory for any community plagued with them.

“I don’t think city agencies are not doing their job,” he said, “we just don’t have the proper laws in effect to do the job we want to do.”

Retired police captain and former City Council candidate Joe Concannon, a Bellerose resident, was a vocal opponent of illegal parlors during his campaign last year.

But instead of enacting new state law, he called on the city to step up and take a harder stance against such a “terrible” quality of life issue.

“There’s about 12 of them right here in the Bellerose-Floral Park area,” Concannon said in a Tuesday phone interview. “It takes away from the community and it ruins the quality and character of a place.

“If the city agencies just did their job, this wouldn’t be a problem,” he continued. “But nobody does their job, so then it falls on the NYPD, the agency of last resort.”

Concannon credited Wachter with showing passion in attacking the issue of massage parlors head on, but disagreed with the notion that the city is doing all it can do to rid communities of the illegal businesses itself.

“How accountable are we going to hold landlords for what a tenant does?” he said. “If the mayor wants to hire a dozen more inspectors for the Health Department and a dozen more inspectors for Consumer Affairs to make sure the existing rules on the book are enforced and applied, then that’s what he needs to do.

“Why are we putting our cops in harm’s way here?”

Addabbo noted such legislation may not be signed into law until sometime this summer, should it earn enough support amongst his colleagues. But Wachter added that if and when the bills become law, impacted neighborhoods should finally start seeing some relief.

“It’s something I believe in. And growing up here, these places shouldn’t be in the neighborhood,” he said. “They’re bringing the neighborhood down. These kids living in the neighborhood should be afforded the same opportunity I did, to live in a clean community.”

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