Greenburgh police yesterday arrested 11 women, ranging in age from 18 to 54, and charged them with unlawfully operating as licensed massage therapists without having the requisite state license.
The women worked in six massage parlors — five of them on Central Avenue in Edgemont and one on Tarrytown Road. A press release issued by the police department said all six massage parlors were closed yesterday by the building department.
The closings are all believed to be temporary because, unlike other towns and villages in New York, Greenburgh does not give its police the legal authority to close down massage parlors employing therapists who are not licensed.
A proposal sponsored by the Edgemont Community Council — and drafted by its president — to give the Town that authority was introduced in January, but was then put on indefinite hold after the town attorney questioned whether state law allows towns to give police such authority.
All of the suspects arrested yesterday were transported to Police Headquarters, where they were booked, processed, and released on bail. The unauthorized practice of a profession, which is what they were charged with, is a Class E Felony under the New York State Penal Law.
The six massage parlors are Aroma Spa, 698 South Central Avenue, Charming Spa, 390 South Central Avenue, Dove Spa, 114 South Central Avenue, Green Luck Spa, 791 South Central Avenue, Green Rose Body Work, 455 South Central Avenue, and K’s Angel Spa, 298 Tarrytown Road.
The ECC’s proposal was introduced at a special meeting of the town board in January only after the ECC posted copies of online adult oriented advertisements featuring young scantily clad Asian women announcing “grand opening specials” at two massage parlors in Edgemont, one of which is located directly across the street from the Greenburgh Nature Center. A prior effort to get the measure introduced at a town board meeting failed when Town Clerk Judith Beville objected and would not stop speaking until town board members turned to another subject.
The arrests were made by members of the Greenburgh Police Street Crime Unit and Drug and Alcohol Task Force after a “short term investigation” at “numerous massage establishments” in town, the police said.
Police Chief Chris McNerney told the ECC last October that houses of prostitution fronting as massage parlors in Edgemont had become so rampant that Edgemont had become the “illicit massage parlor capital of Westchester County.”
ECC president Bob Bernstein drafted the legislation to give local law enforcement the tools they requested — based on laws already enacted without any legal challenge in Clarkstown in 1996 and in Farmingdale in 2013 — after Town Attorney Tim Lewis refused to do so. Mr. Lewis has continued to oppose enactment of the proposed legislation because he believes towns in New York are not permitted to enact such legislation.
On February 19, a deputy town attorney sent a letter to the state attorney general asking whether the ECC’s proposed legislation was “preempted” by state law.
Mr. Bernstein said the letter was misleading because, among other things, it failed to state that (i) the purpose of the law was to shut down houses of prostitution fronting as massage parlors, (ii) such legislation was expressly authorized by the state legislature (Town Law Section 130, subsection 11), and (iii) other towns and villages have already adopted similar measures without any legal challenge.
Mr. Bernstein last week asked the town board to withdraw the letter and said if a letter is to be sent at all, it should include all “pertinent facts” as required by rules governing letters requesting legal opinions from the attorney general. The town board this week refused at its work session to withdraw the letter and, as expected, the planning board, meeting secretly in executive session on Wednesday evening, likewise refused to withdraw the letter. The town attorney’s office says the letter is “neutral” and that the state attorney general would have to be an “idiot” not to know the “pertinent facts.”
In a letter to Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, the chair of the Planning Board, Fran McLaughlin, said that her board’s decision to send the letter now means that the measure is on hold indefinitely.
“If the AG says the law is not pre-empted,” Ms. McLaughlin said, “the Town can proceed with its review. If he says it is pre-empted, the Town needs to come at this another way to ensure the shut down of massage establishments conducting illegal activities.”