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Massage Parlor Crackdown Called 'Operation Hot Towel' Busts 10 Locations

 Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) will introduce an ordinance Wednesday aimed at massage parlors that rely on human trafficking and prostitution.
Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) will introduce an ordinance Wednesday aimed at massage parlors that rely on human trafficking and prostitution.
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BEVERLY — A citywide crackdown on massage parlors — called "Operation Hot Towel" — busted six different parlors where prostitution was happening and led to the closure of 10 locations, police said.

From McKinley Park to Edison Park, police and city inspectors tried to root out parlors where prostitution was happening and parlors operating without proper licenses. 

On Wednesday, Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) will propose an ordinance in Chicago's City Council aimed at massage parlors that rely on prostitution and human trafficking.

The ordinance was written by O'Shea with the help of anti-human trafficking advocates as well as the Chicago Police Department and the city's Department of Business and Consumer Protection.

The spirit of the new ordinance is to do away with the previous method of enforcement that relied on simply arresting massage parlor employees and charging them with prostitution. The new ordinance goes after business owners or those profiting from the illegal enterprise while offering help to those who get mixed up in this illicit profession through human trafficking, O'Shea said.

"My hope is this can provide these victims with an opportunity to get help and a second chance to live the American dream," said O'Shea, adding that many of those arrested in such stings are immigrants.

The recent "Operation Hot Towel" sting found prostitution at six massage parlors throughout the city, according to Lt. Patrick O'Malley of the Chicago Police Department's vice unit:

• Asian Spa in West Town

• Gunnison Spa in Jefferson Park

• JT Spa in McKinley Park

• Latin Spa in Irving Park

• Red Dragon Spa in Ravenswood

• Serenity Spa in Edison Park,

The police worked side by side with the city's business and consumer affairs personnel who also wrote 178 tickets as part of the sting. The department's regulators visited massage parlors they expected might be in violation of city licensing codes April 10 and May 8, spokeswoman Lilia Chacon said.

She said 11 massage parlors were issued cease-and-desist orders and 10 were closed down — several for not having any city business license at all. Such was the case with Seven Heavens Spa at 1026 N. Ashland Ave. in West Town.

Owner Bo Liu was later arrested as part of the sting after attempting to reopen her business after it had been closed by city regulators, O'Malley said.

The massage parlors visited first by city licensing inspectors and later by police were selected based in part on the recommendation of anti-human trafficking advocates that monitor online sites such as Rubmaps and Backpage.com, O'Shea said.

Police also keep an eye on these sites as well as monitor 311 calls, CAPS meetings and complaints to aldermen, O'Malley said.

The new ordinance provides a defense for massage parlor employees who are arrested for prostitution but are victims of human trafficking. It also puts other safeguards in place, including requiring all massage parlor employees to be 18 or older.

Customers must also keep their "sexual or genital" areas covered at all times while in the massage parlor. Drunk or drug-fueled customers are also prohibited from entering massage parlors as part of the new rules.

A few other new safeguards would also be included, and penalties for violations would increase from $500 to $5,000 under O'Shea's ordinance.

The Far Southwest Side alderman is also pitching the rule changes as being friendly to legitimate massage parlors by doing away with requirements for full city licenses for foot and chair massages.

It also allows for massage parlors to share bathrooms with nail salons or hotels when appropriate.

O'Shea plans to announce the new ordinance at a press conference at at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in front of Seven Heavens Spa in West Town. He expects the new law to go into effect sometime this summer.

"Luckily, it is not a problem in our community, but it is a problem in others," he said.