By Amanda Milkovits
Journal Staff Writer
CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — The owner of a massage parlor just three blocks from City Hall voluntarily gave up its licenses Monday after the police, the city law department, and city councilors accused him of deceptive practices.
"It wasn't my intention to be deceitful," said Michael Karow, owner of the Palm Tree Day Spa, moments before the council voted unanimously to revoke its licenses.
"It is absolutely disrespectful for you to come into this community to subject women and other individuals to this type of work," scolded Ward 4 Councilwoman Stephanie Gonzalez. "It's absolutely shameful, and I hope that this isn't a green light for you to take this establishment to another community. It's unfair."
The Palm Tree Day Spa had opened a year ago at 753 Broad St., in the same spot as the notorious Simple Pleasures Spa, which the city had fought for years to close. Karow, of Jewett City, Conn., told the council in March 2014 that he'd never owned a business, and he was vague about how he'd run the spa.
The give-aways were the ads of scantily clad young Asian women that were posted on adult entertainment websites, promising "our girls are thorough, and discreet," and the graphic reviews on sex customer forums. The spa was open earlier than the City Council had allowed. A licensed massage therapist never seemed to be around — though other unlicensed women were.
These incidents and others violated the city's ordinance governing massage parlors, which was passed last April. And the actions also violated the terms that Karow had agreed to when the City Council, acting as a license board, allowed him to open.
"When they come to you and lie about the business, the appropriate action is revocation," urged assistant city solicitor Nick Hemon. "Common sense, the law, and what you've heard here — this gives us an opportunity to put an end to this."
Karow said he'd closed the massage parlor after the police visited the business three weeks ago and asked to see the licensed massage therapist who is supposed to be there.
Bob Ferri, the council president and license board chairman, said the spa had to close. "I don't think it was fair to our Police Department or to our residents in the city of Central Falls to have that establishment there," Ferri added. "We were honest with you, we gave you an opportunity and you took advantage of that opportunity. I was against it from day one but at the time we had no grounds to deny you the license. It seemed like you were going to do the right thing. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."
Karow applied in February 2014, five months after Simple Pleasures was closed for code violations. The City Council members were leery and set strict hours. The neon Open sign lit up at the spa and the ads went up — in the adult entertainment sections on Backpage.com and Spahunters.com.
Police Lt. John Carroll said that a "mamasan" at Palm Tree had worked at spas in Providence and Cranston that were raided for prostitution. "I'm concerned about it based on other investigations in other massage parlors where investigations went into prostitution and human trafficking," he told the council.
Last April, Mayor James Diossa signed a strict ordinance to govern massage parlors and prevent illegal activity. He applauded the council's actions Monday night.
"I'm outraged at the wanton disrespect for the rule of law that this massage parlor has shown our city," Diossa said in a statement. "Repeatedly breaking the law and all behavior that exploits and dehumanizes the women in our community will not be tolerated in Central Falls."
On Twitter @AmandaMilkovits
Full article can be found online here.
Photo cred. Providence Journal