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Following tattoo scam complaints: Industry license alerts, how to spot discrepancies

Following our investigation last week into resurfacing scam complaints against a Colorado Springs tattoo artist, we’re digging into the review process to license industries in El Paso County.

It’s a consumer alert for those of us who rely on license data before investing on a big purchase or choosing where to eat.

You may remember last week our team looked into new complaints against James Ortiz at his current employer, “Elm Street Tattoos”, as well as complaints from 2012 when he worked at “Hellbent Tattoos”.

Ortiz, who also goes by “Tattoo Ortiz”, is accused of failing to honor vouchers and repeatedly canceling appointments. He denies those accusations.

We have since shifted our focus to the facility that currently employs Ortiz. Despite the accusations of fraud, Elm Street Tattoos is properly licensed with the El Paso County Health Department.

Obtaining that license isn’t easy; it requires a thorough process.

El Paso County Environmental Health Program Manager Marla Luckey explains what inspectors look for:

Facility design
Location of hand sinks
Procedure areas
Disinfectants
Artist certification requirements

“There are lots of things that go into our plan-review process before a facility is licensed,” said Luckey.

According to the most recent report filed on Sept. 14, Elm Street Tattoos was cited with three critical primary violations. To be more specific, inspectors found problems with tattoo procedures, failure to label proper chemicals and a number of expired client consent forms.

Yet those issues didn’t result in revocation. In fact, it’s rare for the department to revoke a license.

“We don’t typically do that,” Luckey said. “We work with people to be in compliance through follow-up inspections.”

This means that facilities flagged with violations almost always get the benefit of the doubt and have an opportunity to reform.

“Shutting down somebody is always a last resort,” Luckey said. “We want to work with industry.”

That’s good for the business, but it serves as a warning for consumers to be extra vigilant. A license to operate doesn’t always equate to legitimacy.

According to the county health department, if priority foundation violations are not corrected, it’s likely to lead to an illness. In a typical inspection, health specialists usually ensure violations are corrected before leaving a facility.

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