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Colorado cities find success with ordinances aimed to shut down illicit spas

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- After two years of 13 Investigates reporting on the nearly three dozen illicit massage businesses with ties to human trafficking operating in the greater Colorado Springs area, City Council has finally agreed to look at a way to shut them down.

Aurora, Wheat Ridge, and Commerce City have all adopted local ordinances aimed at getting illicit massage businesses out of their communities in the last few years.

The city of Aurora passed its ordinance in 2018. The ordinance allows the city to inspect and license massage businesses.

"We can screen them out and deal with some of the issues that are specific to these businesses that legitimate massage therapy businesses do not do," Aurora tax and licensing manager Trevor Vaughn said.

Aurora's ordinance requires proper state massage licensing, prohibits employees from living inside the spas, and doesn't allow them to advertise for sexual services. The city was able to shut down all of its illegitimate massage businesses within a year after passing the ordinance.

In 2019, the city of Wheat Ridge took on the issue hoping to shut down their illicit massage businesses. Officials began studying the Aurora ordinance but council members in Wheat Ridge had concerns.

"They said alright well we are concerned one of the chief things we want to make sure is that our legitimate businesses are able to thrive and are not negatively impacted by any ordinance changes," Wheat Ridge Police Department Division Chief Darrel Guadnola explained.

The city of Wheat Ridge asked massage industry professionals, who also wanted the illicit spas out, to help them craft the legislation. Wheat Ridge passed the ordinance in November 2020. That ordinance is already proving to be successful with half of the illegitimate spas packing up and leaving the city within the last few months.

"Our ordinance that was adopted allows us to suspend the license if we see any number of things. So, if we find somebody who is not licensed under DORA operating in that facility their license will be suspended and they won't be able to operate. They will get a hearing within 15 days and will be able to come in and explain that," Chief Guadnola said.

The massage businesses in Wheat Ridge had a 90-day grace period for compliance. The city waived the licensing fee for massage businesses for the first year. The businesses will be required to renew the licenses annually for $25.

"Oftentimes it looked at as sort of simple prostitution scheme and it's really not. The people who are trafficked here illegally, who might not have any way to get out into the community or outreach to law enforcement. You know, when you see living quarters there what it really boils down to is sort of an indentured servitude where the people who traffic these folks here you know they hold their papers and they charge them an exorbitant amount of rent to stay in a place that also operates as a massage business. So a thorough understanding of that is critical," Gaudnola said.

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Chelsea Brentzel

Chelsea is the Assistant News Director for KRDO NewsChannel 13. Learn more about Chelsea here.


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