By Ed Runyan
The Warren Health Department has revoked the licenses for the eight massage parlors raided last week on the basis that the parlors were fronts for prostitution.
And if that isn’t enough to shut them down permanently, it’s likely that a judge will finish the job by declaring the parlors a nuisance, Warren Police Chief Tim Bowers said late last week.
“I think they will all be vacant buildings very soon,” Bowers said.
Warren police officers had reported to the chief that all eight shops have closed.
Bowers said he couldn’t be happier with the way an investigation was carried out by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation because the approach was comprehensive.
“This was the right way to do this because the effect should be more permanent,” Bowers said of the year-long investigation resulting in search warrants and raids on eight parlors Wednesday that uncovered physical evidence of prostitution.
At one parlor, investigators found hundreds of unused condoms in large plastic bags being stored under a false floor in a closet at one of the shops.
Unused and used condoms were also found at other parlors, and more than $90,000 in cash and sex toys were confiscated.
“Why would a recreational massage parlor need all of those condoms? Bowers said.
Bowers and other city officials have “gotten beaten up pretty good” over the past year by those who wanted to see the Warren Police Department conduct its own undercover investigation into the parlors, Bowers said.
But he declined to send his own personnel to the shops because their efforts would not have produced a long-term solution, only a short-term disruption, Bowers said.
Having an officer pose as a customer would have exposed prostitution and resulted in a prostitution charge, but it would not have stopped the problem.
The prostitutes, for instance, would have faced a misdemeanor charge and been back out the next day, Bowers said.
In the case of Wednesday’s raids, investigators didn’t just arrive to collect evidence and conduct interviews, State officials arranged for social workers, interpreters and attorneys to participate so that the prostitutes, many of them Oriental, would be offered help.
Mike DeWine, Ohio attorney general, said Wednesday morning at the site of one of the raids, that one of his goals was to determine whether the women working in the parlors were victims of human trafficking.
“All of them were interviewed with a translator to make sure there was no language barrier,” Bowers said. “There were immigration attorneys there to promise them that they were not there to deport them, they were there to help them.
“Every effort was made to offer them protection, social services, food, shelter and protection. I was impressed that these things were not overlooked — the human element.”
Bowers said he doesn’t know whether the women made use of the assistance they were offered or not, and he doesn’t know where the women went after the raids.
Other possible outcomes of the investigation, officials have said, are criminal charges being filed against the operators of the shops for money laundering and engaging in organized crime. Charges against the prostitutes and “johns” are also possible.
Bowers said BCI conducted a “first-class” investigation with resources that went well beyond what the Warren Police Department could have done on its own.
“They covered all the bases,” he said.
For Bowers, the payoff of the investigation will be to help restore Warren’s good name and stop the victimization of the women who were working in its massage parlors.
“To me, the victims are no longer going to be victimized here in Warren, Ohio. They can go somewhere else. We want them out of here.”