Warren police Capt. Joe Marhulik
By JOE GIESY
A banner shimmers across the center of the website.
Pictures of women in seductive poses line the bottom of the page.
A row of links across the top invite a further look into the Tokyo Health Spa in Warren.
The website’s “About Me” explains the Tokyo Health mission: “We take pride in being an exclusive, professional adult relaxation and massage” facility.
In the website’s gallery, women’s ages, measurements and weight are listed next to their pictures.
Other Warren parlors appear on the Internet in “sex tourism” forums that reference trips for sexual services.
Warren Police Capt. Joe Marhulik said police are aggressively investigating the 10 massage parlors licensed by the Warren City Health Department.
Trumbull County has 12 massage parlors — 10 in Warren, one in Niles and one in Newton Falls. Some of these spas are mentioned in the online “sex tourism” forums.
Websites such as www.usasexguide.info detail alleged happenings in the Warren spas.
In February, one user posted about his visit to Hot Sun Spa in Warren, saying he received oral sex there.
The sexual acts, however, often are cloaked in terms that are explained in a key on the website. “DFK” is “deep French kissing.” Other terms are far more graphic, describing everything from condomless sex acts to “Full service,” which means “intercourse.”
Richard Thompson, owner of Hot Sun Spa, declined to comment. Other spa-license owners denied that sex happens at their facilities.
Police are not so convinced, however. But the same constitutional issues and privacy laws that protect normal citizens from a police state also stymie the police investigation into spas and parlors.
The police need probable cause to get search warrants. But despite numerous complaints from community members, no one is willing to provide a written statement against any of the massage parlors.
Andrea Thompson, owner of Tokyo Spa and VIP Health Spa, said any accusations about illegal activity in her massage parlors are not true.
“Obviously, they have nothing better to do,” she said about the people making allegations about massage parlors in Warren.
Thompson said she might not know if sexual activity takes place in her spas because the massages always take place in private rooms, and she cannot always be present during operating hours. But she said all the women who work there are paid and are there of their own free will.
Thompson said she just heard of the online “sex tourism” forums recently but has not looked at them yet, and added she thinks the forums are just people joking around.
Marhulik and Warren police Sgt. John Yuricek Jr. said police are following up on complaints from community members, but it’s a long, tedious process.
Other communities have succeeded in closing massage parlors, including Liberty Township where police led a 10-year undercover investigation into massage parlors within township limits that led to the closing of several spas and the filing of 87 lewd-sexuality charges.
Yuricek said an investigation into the massage parlors would have to involve undercover police officers or confidential informants.
“The problem with that angle is it’s behind closed doors of a business,” Yuricek said. “We have our beliefs, but proving it is a whole different thing.”
Police have received at least one anonymous tip and would welcome more.
But Yuricek said someone has to come forward and make a signed and sworn statement for the police to obtain a search warrant.
“This is an established business who is licensed, who up front is going by the book. But what goes on behind closed doors might be something different,” Yuricek said.
As part of the ongoing investigation into the spas, Yuricek sometimes accompanies city health inspectors to keep an eye out for any criminal activity, which he says is unlikely to happen out in the open while he’s there.
To be compliant under the city’s health code, spas have to allow inspectors in to look around and ensure everything is up to health code. If spa workers prevent inspectors from going in, they can be cited under health codes.
Robert Pinti, city health department deputy commissioner, said massage-parlor health-inspection reports in Warren are often cleaner with fewer incidences than many of the city’s restaurants that also are subject to inspections by the department.
Pinti said his staff and police check to see if the women in the spa match the women on the licenses.
Each massage parlor in Warren must be licensed by the health department and provide licensure for each employee at the parlor, including massage technicians and any other workers.
The 10 massage parlors licensed by the Warren Health Department are Hot Sun Spa, Hong Kong Spa, Gemini Spa, Fantacy Spa, Tokyo Health Spa, Fuji Spa, VIP Health Spa, Moon Night Spa, Sunny Spa and Ocean Spa.
“Warren’s current ordinances never regulated or limited the number of massage parlors that could be operated,” Yuricek said.
Niles put the limit on number of massage parlors to one, and Warren is in the process of putting a 10-parlor cap within city limits. Marhulik said that with 10 already in existence, setting the cap any lower is problematic because it would force some spas to close.
William Nguyen, owner of Fantacy Spa, said he doesn’t think prostitution is happening around here and definitely not at Fantacy.
Seung Talk Oh, owner of Hong Kong Spa, said there is no sex at Hong Kong Spa — “just massages.”
Massage-parlor license owners Timothy Burnett, Ocean Spa; William Ketchum, Fuji Spa; James B. Foster, Gemini Spa; and Un Suk Cho, Sunny Spa, could not be reached to comment.
The NewsOutlet is a joint media venture by student and professional journalists and is a collaboration of Youngstown State University, WYSU radio and The Vindicator.