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Spas not without doubters

July 14, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

By using terms such as "exotic dancers" or "gentlemen's club," strip clubs give clues about their business when they market themselves.

But it's anybody's guess what De Ja Vu was trying to sell in a newspaper advertisement that contained the name of the business and a phone number to call for directions. It said, "Now at new location. Call for directions. Open 7 days a week."

A pair of feminine eyes, one of them winking, looked out at the reader.

Other ads are similarly mysterious, with little more than a business name and a phone number.

One ad for a spa includes the phrase "adult entertainment." Another ad features two tiny figures representing partially dressed women. Those are the clues.

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The ad with the figures belonged to Shear Dimensions Spa, which was shut down by the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department on June 7, according to Lt. K.C. Bohrer. The spa operated at Berkeley Plaza in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Bohrer said Shear Dimensions Spa had no proof it had a state business license or was paying taxes.

Police investigated the business because of allegations that prostitution was going on there, but there was no evidence to support the claim and no charges were filed, Bohrer said.

On May 10, three people at De Ja Vu on Douglas Avenue in Martinsburg, close to Berkeley Plaza, were charged with operating or working at a massage parlor without having permits and with not having a state business license.

Bohrer said there has been "an influx of massage parlors" in Berkeley County - about four to six of them existed as of the beginning of June.

It's unclear which, if any, of the businesses were legitimate, he said.

At the same time, many Tri-State area businesses with "spa" in their name are proper and licensed to give massage therapy.

Even if police know that a business goes beyond massage and into sexual contact, it's difficult to investigate because in most cases neither the "perpetrator" nor the "victim" of an act of prostitution is willing to talk about it, Bohrer said.

Anyone who practices massage therapy in West Virginia must be licensed by the state's Massage Therapy Board. Those without a license cannot offer or advertise massage therapy or "any other words or title which imply or represent" massage therapy, according to the state code.

Elsewhere in the Tri-State region, employees or people connected to massage parlors have been charged with prostitution on a few occasions in the last several years.

On May 21, the Washington County Sheriff's Department arrested two employees at Deanna's Massage Therapy and Wellness Center outside Hagerstown. The two women were charged with prostitution and practicing massage therapy without a license.

Investigator Chris Weaver of the sheriff's department said there had been complaints about prostitution at Deanna's, so an undercover officer was sent in. After the officer paid $60 for a half-hour message, he was offered sex for money, charging documents say.

Two years ago, 81-year-old George W. Bradley, who owned the RSVP Massage Parlor in Greencastle, Pa., was charged with two counts of promoting prostitution. Bradley died in December 2000 before his case was resolved.

At least four employees at the former Presidential Suite massage parlor at exit 24 off Interstate 81, near Shippensburg, Pa., were charged with prostitution in 1995 and 1996.

In March 2002, Frederick, Md., city officials passed an ordinance aimed at cracking down on prostitution at massage parlors. Massage parlor owners and workers without state licenses must undergo criminal background checks and be photographed and fingerprinted before receiving city licenses, according to The Associated Press.

Employees can only massage members of the same sex.

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