City yanks 2 Richmond massage parlor permits

by Thomas K. Pendergast

The SF Department of Public Health (DPH) has yanked the operating permit of a Richmond District massage business on 12th Avenue and suspended the permit of another on Eighth Avenue.

A permit for the Clement Service Center, at 311 12th Ave., was revoked due to allegations of illegal activities and unsanitary conditions, and the Warmer Massage business at 505 Eighth Ave. had its permit suspended by DPH due to a combination of technical violations and neighborhood complaints.

At a public hearing on May 9, department inspector Edward Walsh told Dr. Tomas Aragon, a deputy director at DPH, that the Clement Service Center was caught by his department's investigator employing unlicensed massage practitioners in June of 2011. The parlor also stands accused by Walsh and the SF Police Department of engaging in illegal activity, operating after 10 p.m., and having a place of business used as living quarters.

It was reopened again in July of that year.

Then, on Jan. 24, 2013, "based on a report that police received and subsequent investigation, a search warrant was issued at this facility," Walsh said.

He said he observed three unlicensed massage practitioners there, so he issued citations.

"We entered this facility with the police department and other agencies that the police invited," Walsh said. "We tried to speak to these three ladies that didn't have permits and they didn't speak any English. They didn't have any identification. One of them was in her pajamas."

He said this was approximately 2 p.m., and he found unsanitary conditions.

"The showers were filthy," said Walsh. "There were sleeping bags on the premises. There were two suitcases full of clothes underneath the massage tables. … There were 13 unused condoms found in a drawer in the cabinet of the employee room."

He said after they were ordered to close, they reopened.

"I got a call on March 21 saying the Clement Service Center has reopened and asking if I'd approved. I said 'no.'"

He went back and found them open for business so he cited them again, including one of the young women who had been caught previously. He put a sign in the window of the front door saying the business' permit had been temporarily suspended. He said he went by there later and the sign had been removed, so he asked the business owner, Nancy Luo, why.

"And she said 'I don't want my customers to see that I'm closed.' That was her response."

Attempts to reach Luo for comment were unsuccessful.

Brian Peagler, of the SFPD's Human Trafficking Unit, then testified that he did numerous surveillance operations on the business starting on Dec. 28, 2012.

"This facility was open two-o'clock, three-o'clock in the morning, all-male clientele … ranging in age from late twenties to their seventies," Peagler said.

Peagler said police served a search warrant on Jan. 24, under the direction of Capt. Jason Fox, along with agents from the IRS criminal division and the FBI, as well as advocates for victims of human trafficking and interpreters.

"Three of the women were not licensed practitioners. We separated these women from this part of the criminal investigation and brought them to a safe area with advocates and interpreters, people who specialize in human trafficking victims, who gave them every opportunity for help and assistance,' he said. "One of them accepted (help)."

During the execution of the search warrant, investigators discovered credit card records that listed only male clients. They also found a naked man in one of the bathrooms. Peagler interrogated the man, who admitted that he had had oral copulation by a woman at the site before.

They found another man there, who, Peagler said, told him under interrogation that this was his third visit. The first time, he was touched in a sexual manner but did not have sex with anyone.

The second time he received sexual services.

Peagler also said that as they were conducting the raid and interviews, potential customers were still attempting to enter the business and they were "shooing men away."

Luo's attorney asked one of the women found working there that day to testify at the permit hearing. He asked her if she had been forced to work at the Clement Service Center and she said "no." He asked her if Luo promised her anything or lied or deceived her in order to get her to work there and again she said "no."

She said she worked there of her own volition and was not forced to work there.
Luo's attorney said the police found no direct evidence of sex happening on the premises and asked that the permit not be revoked based on this evidence.

Capt. James Fox, head of the SFPD's Human Trafficking Unit, however, recommended that the permit be revoked and Aragon revoked the Clement Service Center's permit.

The other Richmond District massage business with an owner at the hearing was Warmer Massage, at 505 Eighth Ave.

According to Walsh, the business owner was cited for engaging in construction on her property without the proper permit and operating a massage business without a proper permit. Since the citation was issued, however, the owner has obtained a building permit.

Guo Rong Wang, the owner, testified that she bought the business on March 18 and paid $41,000. She's also invested another $15,000 in construction to the building.

When he addressed Aragon, Michael Tarbox, owner of the M&K Market next door at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Anza Street, said he spoke for many in the neighborhood.

He said that the shop used to be a legitimate beauty parlor until a few years ago when the previous owner bought it.

"We don't want this business here. We know what it is. We know what's going on there," Tarbox said.

Walsh recommended the business remain closed until Wang pays a fine of $1,000 for operating without the proper massage permit and not re-open until after the DPH approves.

"Just to let you know," Aragon told Wang, "even for places that open a new massage establishment, if there's any illegal activity in there we will take away the license, so you have to obey the law 100 percent."