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.”
The Town of Greenburgh may have the highest ranked school district in the entire country, but the Town itself not only didn’t crack the top ten places to live in New York — when nine of the ten were from Westchester County — it didn’t even make a list of the top 50.
According to Movoto.com, the best place to live in New York this year is the Town of Mamoroneck, followed by the Village of Tarrytown, the City of White Plains, the Village of Mount Kisco, and the Town/Village of Scarsdale. Rounding out the rest of the top ten are the Town/Village of Harrison, the Village of Dobbs Ferry, the Town of Ossining, the City of Rye, and the City of New Rochelle.
“In order to come up with our ranking of best places in New York,” Movoto said, “we started out by gathering a list of all the places in the state with 10,000 people or more from the 2010 U.S. Census. This left us with a total of 87 places. We then looked at each of these places in terms of the following criteria:
From there, we ranked each place with a score of 1 to 87, according to the above criteria, with the lowest number being best. After that, we averaged each for an overall Big Deal Score; again, the lower the better.”
The site did not specify why certain large towns like Greenburgh did not even crack the top 50.
However, the Town and its government has had its share of problems, ranging from draining 40% of reserves last fall to fund spending needs in an election year in order to keep tax hikes artificially low, to backing efforts yesterday by the town attorney and town clerk to block a community-drafted proposal to give police in Greenburgh the tools they say they need — and which other New York towns and villages have enacted without objection — to stop houses of prostitution from fronting as massage parlors in the town.
On top of that, efforts resisted for years by town officials to build sidewalks to make it safer for children to walk to and from their elementary schools now seem to be moving at a snail’s pace — which is better than not moving at all — while a lack of municipal spending and planning has resulted in the town’s outdoor pools having outlived their 35-year useful life — with no plan to replace them.
Even such basic services as road repaving have slowed to the point where, after a series of terrible winters, many town roads are so rutted with potholes they might as well be located in war-town areas of Somalia or Syria. Even well publicized efforts to sell town property — such as Frank’s Nursery on Dobbs Ferry Road, which the Town acquired more than four years ago in a tax foreclosure sale — collapsed in failure when prospective purchasers learned the property was contaminated with carcinogens.
And Greenburgh taxpayers still have nearly ten years to pay off a $5.5 million settlement with the Fortress Bible Church — believed to be the largest such settlement against a municipality in U.S. history — after town officials were found to have violated the constitutional rights of the church by refusing permission to let the church build a chapel and school on church-owned land based on supposed traffic safety concerns that the court found were baseless.
On the positive side, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and town council members Kevin Morgan and Ken Jones are running for re-election proclaiming that, through their efforts, management of the Town has never been better.
The northern Westchester town of New Castle last week introduced the law drafted by the Edgemont Community Council to bar houses of prostitution from fronting as massage parlors, while the Town of Greenburgh today refused a request to withdraw a letter it sent to the state Attorney General seeking an opinion that towns in New York are barred from enacting such legislation.
The agenda for tonight’s work session of the Town Board in New Castle includes a discussion of a draft of a proposed massage law, dated February 27, which is word for word identical to the law written by ECC president Bob Bernstein with the words “New Castle” substituted for “Greenburgh.”
Meanwhile, the Town Board in Greenburgh decided this morning not to withdraw a letter sent February 19 by the Town Attorney’s office to the state Attorney General asking whether the proposed legislation is “preempted” by existing state law requiring that massage therapists be licensed.
Town board members declined to withdraw the letter after deputy town attorney David Fried, who signed the letter, said he believed it was “neutral” and because he didn’t think the Attorney General was “stupid.”
Mr. Bernstein last week asked the Town Board to withdraw the town attorney’s February 19 letter because, even though letters to the attorney general seeking legal opinions are supposed to include “all pertinent facts,” the letter that was sent never mentioned that the Town’s stated purpose was to bar houses of prostitution from fronting as massage parlors. Nor did the letter mention that towns in New York are expressly authorized under state law (Town Law Section 130, subsection 11) to enact ordinances and regulations to combat prostitution. Nor did the letter mention that other towns in and villages in New York, such as Clarkstown in 1996 and Farmingdale in 2013, have successfully enacted similar legislation with no legal challenges whatsoever.
Instead, the town attorney’s letter conveys what Mr. Bernstein said was the false and misleading impression that the Town is merely proposing to “license” massage parlors in much the same manner that the state requires that massage therapists be “licensed,” and asks whether the proposal is “preempted by Article 155 of the Education Law, as well as Part 29 of the Rules of the Board of Regents and Parts 52.15 and 78 of the Commissioner’s Regulations as they pertain to “Massage Therapy.”
Mr. Bernstein said he would help the town attorney’s office draft a new letter to the attorney general, if the town board felt an opinion was needed, but only if the prior letter was withdrawn. “The attorney general’s office states on its website that they are not “‘finders of fact.” For that reason, you cannot have two letters from the same town attorney contradicting each other,” Mr. Bernstein said.
At the Greenburgh town board work session this morning, no members of the Town Board, including Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, questioned Mr. Fried or Town Attorney Tim Lewis, who has been a vocal opponent of the legislation, as to why the town attorney’s letter omitted facts concerning the Town’s purpose, the Town’s reliance on state law expressly permitting regulation for that purpose, or the fact that other towns and villages in New York had successfully adopted similar legislation.
Instead, town board members said they did not want to be perceived as “interfering” with the Planning Board, which is an independent board. However, there is no law or regulation that would bar the town board from directing that a letter written in error by the town attorney be withdrawn.
The Town’s Ethics Code states that “[n]o member of the Town Board shall participate as an advocate before the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals for or against any application, except with respect to any property in which she/he has an Interest.” Because the matter here involves not an application, but proposed legislation, there is nothing in the Ethics Code that would prevent the Town Board from asking the Town Attorney to withdraw a letter to the Attorney General concerning pending legislation where such letter failed to comply with state requirements that “all pertinent facts” be disclosed.
Mr. Feiner said that the chair of the planning board, Fran McLaughlin, who was made aware of all the problems with the letter, told him Friday she would not support withdrawing the letter and replacing it with one that included the facts which the town attorney’s letter omitted.
The planning board’s action in approving the letter has another problem. The planning board is only authorized by law to report on proposed legislation which amends the Town’s zoning ordinance. Here, the proposed massage law creates a new chapter in the Town Code outside of the zoning ordinance, while requiring a minor amendment to the zoning law requiring that massage establishments, like a number of other businesses, obtain special permits from the Town Board.
But even though the planning board’s jurisdiction is limited, the town attorney’s letter attacks the proposed legislation in its entirety. That too, apparently didn’t concern Ms. McLaughlin or town board members who today said that because they couldn’t “interfere” with what an “independent” board does, the sending of a letter to the Attorney General that extends beyond the Planning Board’s legal authority was not their problem.
It is possible that the Planning Board, which meets this Wednesday, might revisit the issue, but because there is no opportunity for any public discussion of the matter before the Planning Board, and because the Planning Board apparently gets all its information concerning such matter from the town attorney’s office, which feels it did nothing wrong, it is not expected that any Planning Board members, who are often criticized for operating in a vacuum, will have any idea what the pending controversy is about.
“We believe there are at least eight illicit massage parlors now operating in Edgemont and a few more in operation on Tarrytown Road,” Mr. Bernstein said. “With today’s action by the Town Board, there will almost certainly be more such establishments opening up in Greenburgh,” he added.
At last night’s meeting of the Edgemont Community Council, where the matter was discussed, several Edgemont residents said that if the town board did not withdraw the letter as requested, the proposed massage legislation was unlikely to be approved and said they would hold Mr. Feiner, the town board, the town attorney and Town Clerk Judith Beville all responsible for thumbing their noses at sex trafficking in the Town and contributing to an overall decline in the quality of life. Ms. Beville has been a vocal opponent of the proposed legislation and at first succeeded in preventing Mr. Feiner from even introducing the measure. The town attorney has long opposed the measure and, for that reason, refused to write it, which is what led Mr. Bernstein to draft it.
The measure was introduced at a special meeting of the town board after the ECC posted adult-themed ads on the internet advertising that two new massage establishments in Edgemont — including one directly across the street from the Greenburgh Nature Center — were holding “grand opening specials.”
The idea of writing legislation to give law enforcement officials the tools they said they needed to combat prostitution in the Town first arose in October when Police Chief Chris McNerney said the prostitution problem in Edgemont had become so bad that Edgemont had become “the illicit massage parlor capital of Westchester County.”
The Town this evening released a copy of the letter a deputy town attorney sent last week to the Office of the New York State Attorney General asking whether state law bars the Town from enacting the legislation submitted by the Edgemont Community Council that would bar brothels or houses of prostitution from fronting as massage parlors.
The letter makes no mention of the Town’s stated purpose to bar brothels from fronting as massage parlors. Nor did the letter mention that such purpose is expressly authorized under a separate provision under state law governing towns (Town Law Section 130, subsection 11), or that the license to be issued to massage businesses was based not on existing state law education and training requirements for licensing massage therapists, but rather on a report and recommendation from the police chief, the building inspector and the fire marshal. Nor did the letter mention that other towns and villages in New York, such as Clarkstown and Farmingdale have successfully enacted similar legislation with no legal challenges whatsoever.
Instead, the town attorney’s letter conveys the impression that the Town is merely proposing to license massage parlors, that such licensing would appear to be duplicative of existing state laws requiring licensing of massage therapists, and that, as a result, the proposal “is preempted by Article 155 of the Education Law, as well as Part 29 of the Rules of the Board of Regents and Parts 52.15 and 78 of the Commissioner’s Regulations as they pertain to “Massage Therapy.”
The Town’s letter nowhere discusses these specific statutes and regulations, which deal only with the education and training required before massage therapists may be licensed in New York. There is nothing in those statutes and regulations which deal with the authority of towns in New York to adopt its own laws to restrict brothels from fronting as massage parlors.
The ECC had proposed the law after Police Chief Chris McNerney said last October that Edgemont had become the “illicit massage parlor capital of Westchester County.” The town attorney, who was supposed to write legislation to assist local law enforcement in cracking down on such businesses, refused to do so, claiming that, even though other towns and villages in New York had already done so without legal challenge, he did not believe such legislation was legal.
The proposal was drafted instead by ECC president Bob Bernstein.
The state attorney general’s office issues non-binding informal “advisory” opinions to assist municipal attorneys in advising their respective municipalities. Only municipal attorneys may request such opinions and in issuing such opinions, the attorney general relies on the municipal attorney to “provide us with the facts.” Therefore, if a municipal attorney plays fast and loose with the facts, the resulting advisory opinion is not likely to be of much validity.
The letter was sent last Thursday immediately after the Planning Board voted unexpectedly — and without any prior public notice — to have the town attorney seek such an opinion.
The town attorney’s letter to the Attorney General also goes well beyond the Planning Board’s limited jurisdiction, which suggests that the town attorney’s strategy all along was to get a letter written to the state attorney general and have it authorized not by the Town Board, for which Town Supervisor Paul Feiner would have to take the heat politically, but by the Planning Board which is supposed to be “independent” of the town board. As far as the town attorney is concerned, it appears that the same letter would have been sent, no matter which board had authorized it.
Under Greenburgh law, the Planning Board is only authorized to report and comment on that portion of the proposed law that amends the Town’s zoning ordinance. Most of the letter deals with the proposed law’s licensing requirement.
Mr. Feiner said that if it were up to him, the town attorney’s letter would not have been sent, but he says that because the Planning Board is an “independent” board, there is nothing he can do about it.
In fact, as the Town’s chief executive officer, if he felt the letter was misleading, Mr. Feiner could ask his colleagues on the town board to have the letter withdrawn or at least require that it be rewritten to be fair and balanced. Neither Mr. Feiner nor any of his colleagues on the Town Board have indicated any willingness to do that.
The letter to the attorney general was made public tonight in response to a resident’s Freedom of Information Law request. Mr. Feiner had yesterday directed that a copy of the letter be made available “ASAP” to Mr. Bernstein, as the author of the proposed legislation, but the town attorney’s office declined, making clear it was responding only to the FOIL request.
The Planning Board meanwhile intends to go forward with its consideration of the proposed legislation on March 18, as originally scheduled, with or without an opinion from the state attorney general.
However, because the town attorney has thus far declined to inform the Planning Board of its limited role in this matter, it is unclear whether planning board members will issue any report and recommendation until the opinion they requested from the Attorney General’s office on matter outside their purview is actually received — and without a report and recommendation from the Planning Board, the Town Board cannot schedule a public hearing on the measure which it must do before voting on whether to enact the measure.
If the Planning Board does issue a report and recommendation on the massage law, it may be many months before it does so. A measure seeking to allow car dealerships on Central Avenue in Edgemont was referred to the Planning Board on October 22 and more than five months later, the Planning Board has still not acted on it.
It is not known why the town attorney and the town clerk are working so hard to prevent the Town from adopting the proposed legislation, or why Mr. Feiner and his colleagues on the Town Board are allowing them to do so. Mr. Feiner claims to be in support of the ECC’s proposed measure, but his actions have many people in Edgemont and elsewhere questioning whether his support on this issue is really genuine.
Last fall, Mr. Feiner said he backed an initiative to construct sidewalks near elementary schools in Edgemont, then changed his mind in December, and then got the town in January to approve a “request for proposals” to study the matter, thus suggesting he really does support the construction of such sidewalks. But no such RFP has been prepared, suggesting that the measure approved in January was really intended for show Edgemont he really does want sidewalks, without actually doing anything to get them built.