If Covington police have it their way there will be no happy ending for local massage parlors that are allegedly offering more then just standard massage services to their clients.
Billboards allude to the services offered and neon ‘open' signs lit up until the early hours of the morning make it clear that these businesses aren't your run-of-the-mill spas. While you may be able to get a traditional massage, there is more for sale in these establishments, so why are they still open?
Both Covington Spa on the Access Road and Apple Spa on U.S. Highway 278 are in the city limits. In the last two years there have been only a handful of incidents reported to the Covington Police. However, two of the reports specifically allege the offer of sex for money by Asian females at the massage parlors, yet there have been no arrests. According to Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton, making an arrest on a prostitution complaint is easier said than done.
"It's extremely hard to investigate these cases because you have to use undercover officers and surveillance equipment and it's not easy to do that when the people in these spas are on guard for that type of activity," he said Friday. "Also, at the end of the investigation, the most you have is a solicitation for a sex act against the individual, not the business. And oftentimes after you make a case, that person is just moved to another business and location and another woman in brought in to take their place."
In March, a complaint was made by a man who said he had visited Apple Spa after making an appointment for a massage and a table shower. According to this man, he paid $60 for those services, and approximately 15 minutes into the massage "the Asian masseuse lifted her skirt and said, ‘$160?'" He said she was not wearing anything under her skirt and because he "did not go there to have sex" he immediately got up, dressed and left the spa before calling authorities. This man reportedly told officers the woman was in her 40s and that he was willing to work with authorities to "help shut down their operation."
In February, officers were called to Covington Spa about a dead body. The man had been taken to Newton Medical Center after collapsing at the spa.
The man's family reportedly told law enforcement officials that they wanted his death investigated further because they thought his death may have been related to some sort of financial scam that led to the disappearance of nearly $400,000 from his accounts. The family said he had been involved in a relationship with an Asian female in the past and suspected the Covington Spa had some involvement in his death. After interviewing the owner of the spa there was no indication that the spa was involved with his death, but there was a clear indication that he had been there when he collapsed.
In May 2010, officers noticed a vehicle with Richmond County tags parked in front of Covington Spa late at night. The open sign was still lit. Around midnight, the officer noticed the same vehicle on Interstate 20 and stopped the driver for a tag light violation. According to that report, the driver's shirt was soaked with sweat and his face was "red and flushed and he appeared to be embarrassed." Since Richmond County is about 100 miles away from Covington, the officer asked the driver what had brought him to Covington. The man reportedly told the officers that he was headed home to Augusta from a business trip. He first denied making any stops, but when confronted with the fact officers had seen his vehicle parked in front of the spa he allegedly said he had stopped by the business "for a bath."
The man told officers that he had paid a woman at the front desk $60 for a massage and a bath and that during the "session" the Asian masseuse "made a gesture with her hand and her mouth," and that he paid her an additional $40 for sexual services. He said he had visited the spa on two other occasions that year and had received those same extra services for additional cash.
"The main thing we need [to investigate the spas] are some citizens who maybe frequent these places and would be willing to go in there with our surveillance and help catch them, or give us testimony as to what had occurred with them to help testify against the businesses," said Cotton. "The main problem is that the people who frequent these places don't want anything to happen to them, because they don't see any problem with them. If they came forward as a willing witness we would probably not prosecute them because they are assisting us. At that point, it's the same as a drug user giving us information about their drug source."
And while patrons of these establishments might not be calling the police, they are posting reviews on adult sites like naughtyreviews.com and adultsearch.com, both sites immediately bring up both Apple and Covington spas when Newton County is typed into the search engine.
One reviewer went through his whole experience, detailing how he went into Apple Spa and rang a bell and was greeted by an Asian female and a menu board. He said the woman asked if he wanted a bath and he agreed, saying, "I had been to spas many times in the Corps so I knew what to expect."
The reviewer said that the woman, who was older, fondled him and asked him if he wanted more. When he said he did she brought in two younger Asian women who were dressed provocatively and when he picked who he wanted, everyone left but her. The man detailed how this woman gave him a massage and then fondled him and asked if she could do more. When he said yes, she held her hand out. After he gave her $150 she left the room, came back and the two engaged in sex.
"I have been to this location several times and been with several different ladies and cannot say that I have ever had a bad one yet," the reviewer wrote.
Another reviewer said that he went into Apple Spa and was given sexual services by an older Asian female for cash, and a third person, who submitted a review Wednesday, said that he received sexual services at Apple Spa as well, "no ‘extras' were discussed," he wrote, "so I am guessing the happy ending is a given. Tip and all, I spent $100 for almost the full hour."
Both businesses are operating as legitimate spas. Their menu boards don't advertise the "extras" that patrons report and the offers are made usually by gestures and not by verbalizing the offer and only while in a back room with just the two people there.
"My knowledge of these establishments is they preset themselves as legitimate spa and once you're inside dealing with the individual masseuse is when they make the opportunity for further actions to occur," Cotton said.
A recent push with law enforcement officials nationwide to crack down on human trafficking may be the only way to remedy the situation.
A recent ordinance passed in Macon, a hotspot for massage parlors, requires massage parlors in the city to have a business license and owners to undergo a background check and disclose any previous criminal convictions before being allowed to open a business. They also require the masseuses to have a license to perform therapeutic massages. The ordinance also allows police to go into the establishments randomly to inspect without having to rely on undercover operations, which are not only tricky, as Cotton said, but also costly.
Because of its close proximity to Atlanta, one of the biggest hubs for sex trafficking in the country, according to the Washington Times, Macon was home to 15 massage parlors offering sexual services prior to the passing of the ordinance.
Many trafficking victims who have been identified and interviewed in Georgia have said they were required to work seven days a week for upwards of 12 hours, engaging in sex or sexual acts with six or seven men on average a day. Most said they were working off debt or that they were being held there since they were in this country illegally and had been brought here with promises of a better life than the one they had at home.
"Just recently there's been a big push about human trafficking and while there's no direct evidence about these spas [in Covington] using human trafficking for sex trade... maybe with some of the new resources we have statewide we may have other avenues to follow through with a different way cause obviously these massage parlors are exploiting women," said Cotton.
"If it was up to me alone we wouldn't have these types of business. Unfortunately, when people present themselves as a legitimate business, the Constitution prohibits me from acting on what my personal feelings are. I have to follow the law... these types of investigations are extremely difficult because it involves two consenting adults conducting an illegal act in a private room."
Both Apple and Covington spas were called numerous times by The News. On several occasions they did not answer. When they did, they hung up the phone and declined to comment on this story or the accusations made against them.