In two separate cases, City Attorney Dennis Herrera has cracked down on brothels that used massage parlors as fronts for prostitution, one in the Financial District, and the other in the Richmond.
"Let me be clear. The women exploited in these establishments are the victims," said Herrera in a statement. "Our approach is to hold to account the business and the property owners who are profiting off exploitation, blighting neighborhoods and harming legitimate businesses."
"Property owners can’t look the other way," he noted. "They have to take responsibility for the decisions they make. We will not let the business or the property owner get away with flouting the law.”
In one case, he reached a $295,000 settlement with the Queen's Health Center at 325 Kearny St. (between Bush and Pine). The city had shut down the spot earlier this year, in February 2017.
The settlement also places an injunction against the space that prevents the landlord, Frank B. Iavarone—the trustee for the family trust that owns the building—from using it as a massage parlor or similar type of business for ten years. Iavarone is also required to pay $100,000.
The injunction also blocks the business owner, named as Jie Qin Zhou, from opening up or even working in another massage parlor or personal service business, such as a barber shop or nail salon, in San Francisco for ten years. She is also prohibited from owning or managing a similar business outside of San Francisco for five years. In the settlement, Zhou is to pay $195,000.
"After Queen’s Health Center thumbed its nose at authorities for years, we were finally able to put an end to their rampant violations of the law,” Herrera said in a statement. “I’m pleased that we reached a settlement that not only shuts their doors for good, but recoups some of the city’s enforcement costs."
In a separate, but similar, case, Herrera is suing the Paradise Health Center at 242 Balboa St. (near 4th) in Inner Richmond for operating as a covert brothel under the guise of a massage parlor.
Paradise Health is located across the street from Peter's Place, a preschool. Herrera's office also noted that it is less than a quarter of a mile from an elementary school and next to a Muni 31-Balboa bus stop that serves both schools.
The community has complained about the massage parlor for years. “It is completely unacceptable to have a brothel across the street from a preschool,” Herrera said.
"For all intents and purposes, Paradise Massage is a brothel," wrote one Yelp commenter, who gave it one star. "Just look at the layout of the rooms with all the mirrors and toys."
In May 2017, the Department of Public Health suspended Paradise Health's business permit for 60 days, and forced it to close briefly.
However, that did not deter the owners of the business, Tian Yi Zhao and Chiu Hung Paul Tam. The business continued to operate after the suspension, including advertising on backpage.com, as recently as September 29th.
The complaint also cited multiple violations of the Planning and Health codes, including maintaining security cameras outside, locking the front entrance during business hours, and installing a buzzer to control entry. The business was also cited for having massage practitioners who were not fully clothed and operating between the hours of 10pm and 7am.
Police and health inspectors also found a massage practitioner engaging in a sexual act with a customer on May 10, 2016. More recently, a sting on September 15th involved a massage practitioner who solicited an undercover officer for sex.
The lawsuit also names the landlord, Lisa Tang, the trustee of the family trust that owns the property.
With the lawsuit, Herrera is hoping to close the business for a year. He is also hoping that the Superior Court of California will place a similar injunction to the ones in the Queen's Health Center case, where the landlord and business owners are blocked from operating massage parlors again.
Penalties would also include up to $25,000 for allowing prostitution to occur on the premises; at least $200 for each day in violation of the Planning Code; and $2,500 for each unlawful business act.
"With this lawsuit I aim to shutter them once and for all, and to hold this business and this landlord responsible," said Herrera in a statement. "We were successful before in the case of Queen’s Health Center, and I am confident that we will be again.”
Never miss a story.
Subscribe today to get Hoodline delivered straight to your inbox.