Ordinance to End Trafficking in Human Beings goes through the Denver City Council
The bill was passed two years after a 9Wants to Know investigation that found suspected illegal massage companies moved from Aurora to Denver.
DENVER – Denver massage companies must be licensed to prevent human trafficking. Denver City Council unanimously passed Law 21-0712 Monday night, nearly two years after a 9Wants to Know investigation found that illegal massage companies suspected of trafficking in human beings could reopen in Denver after it closed in Aurora.
RELATED: Stores that have been closed on suspicion of human trafficking in Aurora are reopening just a few miles away
Paul Kashmann, a city council member and main proponent of the bill, said the goal of the new law isn’t to penalize massage companies for sticking to the rules. The aim is to help victims of human trafficking.
“In many cases, the women who provide these services are not volunteering to make some money to support their families,” he said. “The reality is that they have been involuntarily dragged into Denver from other countries or parts of the United States and are hostages forced to engage in illegal activities for the benefit of those who captured them.”
As of July 1, 2022, all massage companies will require a $ 500 license to operate in Denver. Schools that are authorized to teach massage therapy, athletic training rooms and solo practitioners with a state license are excluded from the regulation.
The regulation does not allow anyone to live in a massage facility. Records collected by Aurora inspectors and obtained from 9Wants to Know showed full refrigerators, microwaves, and piles of clothes. Stores cannot be open between 11:00 PM and 5:00 AM and cannot promote sexual activity online.
According to a 2017 report by the Polaris project, these are all indicators of human trafficking.
Individuals applying for the license must pass a background exam to ensure they hold a state massage therapist license. If their state permits are ever revoked or denied, they can’t get one in Denver. The Denver license is only valid for one year. After that, business owners will need to reapply and complete another background review by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Kashmann said during the city council meeting on Monday that this ordinance gives regulators more power and creates a paper trail to the head of the company.
“We have stronger tools to end the horror these women face,” he said. “And finally, instead of focusing on the women being forced into bondage, we are finally hunting down the real criminals who create these intolerable environments.”
According to the regulation, the massage license for the operation can be withdrawn if a company exhibits “persistent criminal behavior” including complaints about sex offers or references to human trafficking. Employers are also required to keep on-site records such as contact information and a copy of their massage therapist license, which keeps information about who is giving massages and when.
Applicants can be rejected if they have a previous conviction, particularly for sexual offenses or fraud. The ordinance also stated that loss of a state massage license could result in a Denver permit being denied.
Even if a massage shop is closed, another cannot replace it for two years.
Similar laws in Aurora in Denver. adopted
Aurora has put in place tough new rules aimed at shutting down salons offering sex for cash, and closed 18 of its stores from 2017 to 2019.
Trevor Vaughn, an inspector with Aurora’s Tax and Licensing Department, has found many places where women lived.
“I would see beds,” said Vaughn in 2019. “I would see luggage. I would see refrigerators fully stocked. Signs that people lived there. We also saw some people in less than professional clothing. “
Aurora Spas Closed on Suspicion of Sex and Human Trafficking
But after the Aurora shutdown, 9Wants to Know found seven of them moved to new locations and reopened for business.
9Wills to Know faced three owners who closed stores in Aurora. Reviews in online posts indicated that sexual activity was occurring at these Denver locations. All three refused customers could buy sex there if asked for it.
“So we have nothing to do with that,” said Huaimei Li in 2019 of a Mandarin translator. “We only offer massage services.”
The Secretary of State’s papers show Li as the “plenipotentiary” of Massage Me. Li applied for a license to use a massage facility for a shop in Aurora, which was denied. Li claimed to be the owner. Aurora’s tax and licensing department said Li either ran or tried to run an “adult salon”, which resulted in Aurora firing Li in October 2018. A few months later, in February 2019, Massage Me was transferred to Li, Denver.
Aurora’s ordinance went into effect on May 21, 2018, which allows the city to vet all massage companies to ensure that every masseuse has a state license. The Aurora regulation also requires that salons keep detailed logs of massages and that staff be fully clothed. The Aurora ordinance is very similar to that adopted by Denver.
Kashmann hopes the surrounding cities will follow the lead of Aurora and now Denver.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these companies, with the passage of this law, decide to move to more welcoming areas,” he said. “While we don’t want to spread this problem to others, we hope our neighbors will join us and let people know that Denver and Colorado do not tolerate this ongoing form of slavery.”
A 2020 indictment
The bill is the latest result of the 9Wants to Know investigation. In August 2020, the Denver District Attorney announced that seven people and 12 companies had been charged on 33 counts of crimes resulting from a year-long investigation called “Bad Apple,” according to the Denver District Attorney’s Office.
RELATED: Man at the Center of 9Wants to Know Investigation into 7 Human Trafficking Accused
In 2019, 9Wants to Know used a hidden camera and recorded a worker at Apple Spa offering a sex act.
Documents show that Kuo owned Apple Spa for about three years until the Apple Spa business broke up a few months after the television news aired.
Lt. Andrew Howard heads the Denver Police Department’s deputy unit responsible for illegal investigations into massage parlors. During an interview in 2019, he was unaware of any massage companies involved in Aurora’s illegal activities.
“So I’ve heard information from you that some of the Aurora locations have moved to Denver,” said Howard. “Information that I have not yet heard is that you are involved in illegal activities. If you are, I would certainly like to know, that is certainly a concern. “
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