COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- 13 Investigates first exposed a booming illegal sex industry with ties to human trafficking in Colorado Springs two years ago.
There are currently 27 massage parlors open with sexually explicit reviews on a website called RubMaps operating within Colorado Springs city limits.
After our team continued to ask questions since then, the Colorado Springs City Council has finally agreed to address the issue in a work session next month.
Ahead of the work session, we asked all of the council candidates running for office on April 6 what solutions they had to shut down the more than two dozen illicit parlors open in Colorado Springs city limits.
Our investigation has found that there is little recourse for these illicit spas after being busted for prostitution. They typically open right back up after being arrested.
That's what happened in December when accused pimp Xinan Xia opened his two illicit parlors the day he bailed out jail on charges of keeping a house of prostitution and pimping, despite the fact police believe the women working there are victims.
"Those people are in fact victims. They are often tightly controlled as to their movements and what they can and can't do," El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen.
Here's where these spas exist by city council district:
District 1 (Northwest Colorado Springs) - 4 illicit parlors
District 2 (North Central Colorado Springs) - 1 illicit parlor
District 3 (Southwest Colorado Springs) - 3 illicit parlors
District 4 (Southeast Colorado Springs) - 11 illicit parlors
District 5 (Central Colorado Springs) - 8 illicit parlors
District 6 (East Colorado Springs) - none currently operating
Eleven of the candidates running for city council support creating a new ordinance to make it tougher for illicit massage parlors to operate. The city of Aurora did that back in 2018 and was able to kick out most of its illegal parlors within a year.
Glynn says he supports only using the city's current public nuisance ordinance to shut down spas but doesn't believe a new ordinance is necessary. Glynn did acknowledge that parlors have been a "known source of human trafficking" and added that he thinks more should be done than "simply passing more laws and ordinances that will likely be skirted by offenders."
Geislinger claims there's no evidence of human trafficking in the spas and said he supports enforcement of current laws instead of a new ordinance.
Candidates Michael Seeger, Jay Inman, Henry McCall, Regina English, Matt Zelenok, Garfield Johnson, and Mike O'Malley didn't provide an explanation for not responding to the survey. District 4 incumbent councilwoman Yolanda Avila, who has more illicit parlors in her district than any other area of town, told 13 Investigates over the phone she chose not to complete it because it was "distracting from the focus of her campaign."
(Scroll to the bottom of this article to see the reasons given for answers from candidates)
However, illicit spas are no doubt one of the first issues the newly elected council will work on as it's the topic scheduled to be discussed at their first work session six days after the election.
"We look to people like your station KRDO okay to bring these things to light. I think you've shut down two of the organizations already," City councilman at large Bill Murray said.
Murray isn't up for re-election but tells 13 Investigates it's finally time for action.
"I don't want it to be a one-off discussion and then just have it disappear in the ethereal. What we need to do is consolidate that information into one central location, so in fact, we can act on it," Murray said.
The new city council illicit spa work session is set for April 12.
Responses to our survey
What method of shutting down more than two dozen illicit massage parlors in Colorado Springs do you support if elected to city council? A new ordinance requiring more regulation, enforcement of existing public nuisance ordinance, or a combination of the two solutions?
Dave Donelson District 1 - New ordinance requiring more regulation of illicit massage parlors ex: Aurora ordinance
Glenn Carlson District 1 - Other: All of the above! We own a massage therapy clinic and have many employees. This is an issue we have followed and deal with all the time. We are happy to see you've kept highlighting this issue and on council, I will do whatever it takes to stop this behavior.
Jim Mason District 1 - Combination of above solutions
David Noblitt District 2 - New ordinance requiring more regulation of illicit massage parlors ex: Aurora ordinance
Randy Helms District 2 - New ordinance requiring more regulation of illicit massage parlors ex: Aurora ordinance
Dave Geislinger District 2 - Other: Enforcement of all laws related to prostitution.
Olivia Lupia District 3 - New ordinance requiring more regulation of illicit massage parlors ex: Aurora ordinance
Richard Skorman District 3 - Combination of above solutions
Art Glynn District 3 - Enforcement of Colorado Springs public nuisance ordinance
Justin Hermes District 5 - Combination of above solutions
Nancy Henjum District 5 - Combination of above solutions
Karlie Van Arnam District 5 - Combination of above solutions
Mary Elizabeth Fabian District 5 - Other: All of the above as well as pushing for state legislation and working with community resources like news agencies and the Human Trafficking Task Force of Colorado Springs to help spread awareness of these situations. I have found that many in our community are not truly aware of this situation and the impacts in of our community.
Why did you choose the above solution for shutting down illicit parlors? Please be as specific as possible.
Dave Donelson District 1 - I will be a vote to stop Illicit Massage Parlors. Since our ordinance has proven ineffective I will support enacting a more effective ordinance. We can use the "Aurora ordinance" as a model. Since it has shown itself to be effective in Aurora we can expect it to be effective in Colorado Springs also. During the period leading up to the ordinance passage I will also support strong enforcement of Colorado Springs public nuisance ordinance.
Glenn Carlson District 1 - We are in this industry and this kind of illicit behavior affects everyone. I believe those people found guilty of trafficking should NEVER be allowed to hold a massage therapy license or operate a licensed business, for that matter. Therapist licensing is done at the state level and much more cross-reporting of data is needed to stop these serial violators. In addition, we can work with private companies to highlight these companies and push them to clamp down as well, i.e. shut down their Google listing or FB pages.
Jim Mason District 1 - I think 'illicit massage parlors' in many ways act as a component of the Human Trafficking paradigm. Moreover, I think the 2nd and 3rd order effects of illicit massage parlors lead to an erosion of safety and security measures, which in turn, harms our community, by endangering unaware citizens while they are conducting their daily lives.
David Noblitt District 2 - If it has worked in a city within the state, then I would believe it would be the quickest way to provide for enforcement to stop the process without opening the city to a legal challenge. I’m shocked at the lack of action from every level of government here. If we know that illegal activity is occurring, I don’t want to wait for 1, especially 2 acts to be found out prior to initiating the CS ordinance. This is crazy that this is not being addressed appropriately and quickly. And then once we have closed the actions here, move to the state to drive this though the legislature.
Randy Helms District 2 - I support the strongest possible measures to stop these atrocious crimes.
Dave Geislinger District 2 - There is a difference between prostitution and human trafficking, and the please department advises that their evidence establishes these are places of prostitution and they are dealt with as such. I continue to support the enforcement of the laws prohibiting prostitution, but it must be even handed in enforcement against the Johns also. If they were evidence of human trafficking, my response would be different.
Olivia Lupia District 3 - The City of Aurora's approach is clearly effective, as the results in Aurora speak for themselves. For the City of Colorado Springs to only have an unenforced city ordinance that equates prostitution and pimping, ergo human trafficking, to just a nuisance requiring multiple offenses before any legal enforcement action can commence in earnest is clearly an impotent response. A new ordinance similar to the one enacted in Aurora in combination with diligent Colorado Springs Police Department enforcement and District Attorney prosecutions of both spa operators and their customers would see these business close. Equally as important as permanently shutting down these facilities and prosecuting the operators is the rescue and rehabilitation efforts for the girls working in the establishments who are the only victims in this scenario.
Richard Skorman District 3 - The pandemic has made it even more challenging to crackdown on our 34 illicit spas, as we don't want to expose our uncover officers to COVID. Hopefully, we can ramp up soon as the vaccinations are more widely rolled out. We are now using our Public Nuisance ordinance that allows the city to shut down business that have two instances of illegal pimping by threatening the building owner with seizure of their property. It is a much easier and quicker process than going the traditional felony route. I do like the ordinance Aurora passed in 2018 that requires a background check, list of employers, bank statements, a longer application process and even restricts operating hours, hours of operation and overnight stays. I do worry about the welfare of the sex workers and would want to make sure there is a good safety net in place for the women/victims when we shut them down. And we need to cooperate better with the Sheriff's Dept. and the County to ensure that when we close down these businesses in the City, that they just don't open up in the County. Yes, Aurora has done a good job of shutting these operations down, but many have just moved to Arvada and other neighboring cities. We will have a Council Work Session on Illicit Massage Parlors from PD April 12th, to get the newly elected Council members up to speed.
Art Glynn District 3 - Colorado Springs massage parlors have been a known source of human trafficking and other illicit activities for years. Our local military installations have prohibited a large number of massage parlors for as long as I have lived here (15 years), yet our police have been hamstrung with a lack of resources and local political will to eradicate this cancer to our community. I was tempted to answer this question with other, as laws and ordinances are only as good as they are followed or prosecuted when they are not. We need to do more than simply pass more laws and ordinances that will likely be skirted by offenders. It is important for folks to recognize that this is not about the sex industry, it is about human exploitation and is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for other social cancers that threaten our community. To gain an understanding of what is it at stake, I encourage folks to go to https://traffickinginamericataskforce.org/ to learn more.
Justin Hermes District 5 - We must not tolerate this at all. If elected to city Council I would work closely with the police department and make sure all illicit parlors are shut down.
Nancy Henjum District 5 - Clearly, from KRDO’s own reporting, including comments from CSPD, the current ordinance in Colorado Springs is not enough to stop once and for all this terrible exploitation of women. Enforcement also needs to be a higher priority for local law enforcement as we give our police better tools, such as an ordinance like the one in Aurora. In many of the issues we face we can learn from other jurisdictions, and I am very encouraged by Aurora’s approach, particularly as they make it virtually impossible for an illicit parlor to open up again once closed. We will also need to coordinate with the County to ensure that we are lock step and not pushing these businesses to the County. A further step is crucial: As we close these parlors, we need to engage a coalition of partners and services to help women out of what is essentially forced prostitution. What economic situations might they be in? How can we help them find jobs, or job training that will bring them the kind of work that is fully respectful of their humanity.
Karlie Van Arnam District 5 - I would support implementing an ordinance similar to the one Aurora has adopted. I was actually shocked when I learned that the City does not require any sort of registration for a massage parlor to even verify that the employees working at the parlor are licensed massage therapists. This seems like the most basic of requirements to operate a parlor. Coming from a highly regulated industry, I am not a fan of over-regulation or excessive cost prohibitive regulations. However, it seems that for a nominal licensing fee (enough to cover the administrative costs of licensing and periodical inspections) and a basic set of regulations similar to Aurora's, we could eradicate the illicit massage parlors within the city in a similar time frame and fashion as Aurora without unduly burdening professional massage therapy businesses and spas. I would also support enforcing the public nuisance ordinances and pursuing abatement processes. I understand they can be a lengthy process, but we muse keep in mind that these illegal operations are profiting of off trafficking women. They are violating the most fundamental and unassailable human rights. We owe it to these victims to pursue every avenue we have to eliminate the illicit parlors that are holding them hostage, right here in our own City. And finally, I would advocate for participation on the State level. The problem with enacting a ordinances just here in Colorado Springs is that the parlors will pick up and move to neighboring cities that do not have any oversite. Collaboration between the local municipalities and the State is a necessary step to fight against human trafficking.
Mary Elizabeth Fabian District 5 - We should not pass the buck to the county or another community in this situation but look for solutions that actually help stop this problem across the board.