For more than a year, Houston Police Department officers went undercover at various "spas" and "massage parlors" in the area, and found what they were looking for: evidence of prostitution.
Police had made various prostitution-related arrests earlier this spring following their sting operation. But now, the Harris County Attorney's Office has secured temporary injunctions against seven of these unlicensed "spas" and their owners and landlords, preventing all of them from doing business and selling sex as trial in the civil suit approaches.
The county's lawsuit overall seeks to permanently block the spas from operating; it also seeks between $1,000 and $10,000 for every day that the spas operated without a license. The spas include "A" Spa, Mam Spa, Oak Spa, JC Spa, 249 Spa, New Haven Spa and Paris Spa.
Trial is set for November in the case, but in the meantime, the owners of the retail centers where the prostitution joints are located are barred from leasing space to spas, massage parlors, and other business often used for prostitution. The owners will also have to do background checks on all future tenants and install cameras that cover parking lots and all storefronts, footage that police can seize whenever they want.
“These so-called ‘spas’ are well known as fronts for prostitution,” said County Attorney Vince Ryan. “Property owners have a responsibility to ensure that their tenants are operating legal businesses and we will hold them to that.”
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According to the county attorney's office, one of the landlords, Alex Luk, was already busted for this six years ago. In 2010, a court ordered him to stop allowing an unlicensed massage parlor to do business at his retail center — one where Mam Spa, which is named in this current suit, was doing business. Just last year, he was also ordered to pull the plug on unlicensed bars and game rooms on South Gessner. He was punished for contempt after violating that court order, the county attorney's office said.
Luk and other defendants had to post a $5,000 bond to make sure they'll comply with the injunction. If they don't, they can be thrown in jail for ten to 30 days.
This is far from the first time Harris County has gone after shady "massage parlors" and "spas." There are hundreds all across the city, and in February, the Harris County District Attorney's Office announced a similarly successful sting operation, also netting seven prostitution joints fronting as massage parlors that time.
All of this goes to show: If you want an actual massage or day at the spa, make sure you do your research first.