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Seedy massage parlors still plaguing Bensonhurst, residents say

While seedy spas – some conducting risky, after hours business – have been targeted and penalized in recent years throughout southern Brooklyn, illegal massage parlors still plague Bensonhurst, according to lifelong Bensonhurst resident Catarina Stragapede who says several have “popped up” in recent years and don’t seem to be going anywhere.

“They started popping up a lot, I would say, three years ago,” Stragapede told this paper. “There are a lot of kids in the neighborhood and [these places] shouldn’t be there. It’s illegal and it’s just seedy.”

After contacting the landlord of one of the parlors, located on 20th Avenue, Stragapede was told that the owner of the parlor had signed a lease and that, officially, the landlord would have to speak to his lawyer before making any decisions.

“I called the landlord myself and I said ‘look, we know what’s going on there,” Stragapede recalled. “’There’s no way that this place is going to be open with my kids right up the block.’

“The signs say ‘OPEN’ with red blinking lights and the doors are [always] open,” she continued, referencing another similar parlor on 18th Avenue, “and you know it’s a sketchy massage parlor when they have the windows blacked out.”

Contacted for input, District Manager of Community Board 11 (which serves the neighborhoods of Bath Beach, Bensonhurst and Gravesend) Marnee Elias-Pavia informed this paper that the issue is one the neighborhood is struggling with.

“Massage parlors are an issue that we battle with,” Elias-Pavia said. “On Monday, we forwarded multiple locations to the Department of Buildings, which included one located on 20th Avenue, as well as locations on 18th Avenue. We [also] received a complaint regarding a new alleged parlor located on Bath Avenue, which was also reported to DOB.”

The board has previously written to Mayor Bill de Blasio in regards to the parlors, detailing a resolution that was passed by the board asking the city to “create a basic licensing category for spas/massage parlors.

“Community Board 11 believes that the creation of a basic licensing category administered through the Department of Consumer Affairs or Health and Mental Hygiene, could if implemented protect the consumer, employees [and] prevent the proliferation of illegitimate business in our communities, and the potential for human trafficking,” the 2014 letter to de Blasio reads.

A big year for cracking down on such trafficking and illegal activity through parlors, 2014 saw the arrest of the arrest of 15 employees and managers at nine massage parlors throughout Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst. In 2013, a year-long investigation was launched and ultimately led to the arrest of 19 people involved in prostitution and illegal massage parlors across Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.

“We are sending a very strong and simple message: businesses like these have no place in our family oriented community,” Councilmember Vincent Gentile, whose office has continued to receive numerous complaints, said in 2013. “And while we encourage small businesses to open and flourish here, we will not stand for any business that engages in illegal activities or breaks the law. Plain and simple, establishments like these are an embarrassment to and a scourge on our neighborhoods.”

Perpetuating the activity, websites like backpage.com and a site called rubmaps.com feature Bensonhurst services regularly and include advertisements and reviews for alleged locations.

“Residents are encouraged to report these locations to our office with as much information as available, so that we can file appropriate complaints,” Elias-Pavia said. “We will not share complainant’s information.”

“This is bold, the way these places [are operating] now,” said Stragapede. “It’s gotta go.”

This paper has been asked to withhold the specific locations of any aforementioned parlors so as not to interfere with ongoing investigations. 

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