Published in the July 21, 2015 edition
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The town is prepared to use every measure at its disposal to rid the town of massage parlors believed to be fronts for prostitution.
Letters from the town are going out to at least six commercial property owners notifying them that the town believes that renters at those properties may be engaged in illegal activities as “erotic massage parlors.” The letters, part of the town’s multi-pronged effort to address the issue of massage parlors suspected of serving as fronts for prostitution, were unveiled at last night’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen.
In many cases, those massage parlors suspected of serving as fronts for prostitution are also suspected of possible “human trafficking,” where young women and girls are virtually enslaved in the sex trade.
The letters to the property owners, dated July 21, 2015, are identical in their message except for the names of the property owners and the addresses of the properties in question.
The landlords targeted in the letters and the addresses of the rental properties are as follows: Anthony E. Acari (20C Del Carmine St.); Francesco Pasciuto (37 Water St. #2); Lisa M. Dambrosio (111-113 Albion St.); Charles Kotsiopoulos (113 Water St.) ; Jana Kaplan (253 North Ave.); Julie A. Hart (446 Main St.) and Charles and Patricia Sem (602 Main St.).
“This letter is a formal notice that the Town of Wakefield, per the direction of its Board of Selectmen, is investigating certain legal remedies with respect to activities that are believed to be occurring at the above-referenced Premises. Those remedies potentially include the civil forfeiture of the Premises pursuant to the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.”
The letter goes on to remind the property owners of the town’s ongoing effort to revitalize its downtown and other commercial areas.
“We are now unfortunately faced with an issue that threatens to debase the entire character and charm of our beloved town,” the letter continues. “That issue is the increased number of ‘erotic massage parlors’ setting up shop in Wakefield. These businesses are not only completely inconsistent with what we believe Wakefield is all about, but also threaten to substantially lower the property values of the entire commercial district. This effect, of course, is secondary to the societal harm that results from prostitution, especially organized prostitution rings that often involve human trafficking, virtually enslaving young girls in the sex trade.”
The letters go on to advise the property owners that the town has recently been made aware that these illicit massage facilities are marketed on certain erotic web sites. Attached to each letter is a screenshot of the listing on the erotic website, including a photo of the building and its Wakefield address.
“Given the public information available about the activities occurring in the Premises, we would be shocked if this information is a surprise to you,” the letters warn. “With that said, we hope none of our property owners are turning a blind eye to these activities in favor of collecting rents.”
The letter reminds the property owners that Wakefield Police have recently made a number of arrests for solicitation of sex at various massage parlors but concern remains that human trafficking may also be going on at these facilities.
The letter further warns that the town will be “utilizing every legal tool available to rid the community of these illegal businesses,” including applicable federal and state statutes.
“You are hereby put on notice that the penalties and ramifications of these laws include the outright forfeiture of property like yours,” the letter warns. “We hope and expect that such actions will be unnecessary; however, the Board of Selectmen will not sit idly and allow such businesses to turn Wakefield into Combat Zone North. After all, these establishments would not be here if no one rented to them.
“Accordingly, the Town hereby requests that you investigate the activities occurring in the Premises immediately and take all steps in your power to legally eliminate all illegal activities that may be occurring there, such as prostitution and human trafficking.”
The letter is signed by Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio and offers the town’s assistance to help the property owners rid their premises of tenants engaged in illegal activities.
The Board of Health is also looking at updating its applicable regulations. Some years ago, the state took over regulation of massage operations from local boards of health but left out certain categories like those that operate under the “body work” label. That omission in the state law is seen as a loophole being exploited by those operating erotic massage facilities.
“I don’t appreciate this on any level anywhere,” Selectman Brian Falvey said of the illicit massage operations, “and certainly not in our back yard.” Falvey had come up with the the idea of using the threat of legal action against property owners that rent to the erotic massage parlors.
Selectman Betsy Sheeran agreed with Falvey. “We’re not going to have this town turned into some honkytonk, combat zone, cheap dump,” she said.
The board voted unanimously to authorize sending the letters warning the landlords of the consequences of renting to tenants engaged in certain illegal activities.