The Greenburgh Town Board unanimously approved legislation that addresses a problem that exists around the nation: massage establishments being used for illegal activity including prostitution. According to Bob Bernstein, head of the Edgemont Community Council and a major proponent for the law the legislation "will give its police the tools they need to close permanently all “adult” massage businesses in unincorporated Greenburgh that employ persons that are not licensed by the State of New York as massage therapists.
Credit for the law should go to Mr. Bernstein and to Councilmembers Francis Sheehan, Ken Jones and Kevin Morgan who worked with Mr. Bernstein on the wording of the law. In recent weeks Councilman Sheehan spent hundreds of hours (including after midnight) & weekends going over every word in the draft law. This law was an example of how government should work - a cooperative effort with elected officials and civic leaders working together for the good of the town. I hope that there will be many other examples of this kind of cooperation and partnership in the future.
The law employs a novel three-pronged approach. First, the Town outlaws all “massage parlors,” which are defined as massage businesses that employ unlicensed personnel. Second, the Town requires all massage establishments to apply for a license, which will give police the opportunity to conduct background checks to determine whether the applicants have a history of hiring unlicensed massage workers. Third, once licensed, all massage establishments in Town must then obtain a special permit in order to comply with the Town’s zoning code.
By adopting this approach, not only will the Town not give licenses to any massage parlors, but if a massage parlor is found to be operating in the Town, the police will be able to obtain a court order shutting down the premises for good, either because it never had a license or, if it did have a license, to get a court order revoking it.
All massage businesses in Town will have to comply with the new law within four months."
An initial draft of the law was proposed by Mr. Berstein, an attorney, after Police Chief Chris McNerney told the Edgemont Community Council "because of the “adult” massage parlors that had opened up in empty storefronts in strip malls along Central Avenue in Edgemont ". The Greenburgh police have made arrests over the years but have had a difficult time permanently shutting down the operations.
According to Mr. Bernstein the purpose of the law is to target massage parlors in Greenburgh that advertise on the internet offering “adult entertainment.” These advertisements typically feature photographs of scantily clad young women with wording that strongly suggests that sexual services could be obtained at these businesses.
In addition, according to police, patrons of these businesses would often publish online reviews, describing the various sexual services available and the prices for which they were offered."
Without the law police would conduct undercover raids, but would only be able to target the women who work in these businesses – and not the men who typically employed them – and charge the women not with prostitution, which is difficult and expensive to prove — but with offering massage services without a license, which is much easier to prove and is a Class E Felony in New York.
According to Mr. Bernstein, "Because of the severity of the felony charge, the women arrested would typically plead to minor offenses and be back at work, if not where they were arrested, then at another storefront nearby or in a neighboring community.
Meanwhile, when these arrests would occur, the Town’s building department would inspect the premises and if a building code violation were found, the building department would shut the place down. But the businesses would reopen as soon as the violations were corrected.
As a result, the police not only lacked the tools to close these businesses down for good, but their enforcement efforts often involved coordinating with state and federal law enforcement authorities and were quite costly to taxpayers.
That is all expected to end with passage tonight of the new law".
According to Mr. Bernstein 'the legislation is considered a landmark because it is expected to serve as a model for all municipalities in New York to adopt.
The law still needs a few tweaks. The cost of obtaining the license from the Town is only $100, but the Town Board must still set a fee for the special permit. Under existing town legislation, obtaining a special permit can cost more than $2500, but the plan is to set a much lower fee so as not to unduly burden the Town’s massage businesses and make sure they comply."