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New Colorado Springs law aimed at weeding out illicit spas takes effect

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The City of Colorado Springs officially has a new tool to regulate massage businesses by requiring them to have a license.

A new ordinance, passed by Colorado Springs City Council earlier this year, takes effect Thursday. The ordinance requires massage businesses to apply for an annual license that costs $110 or apply for an exemption. 

“By September first of this year, it will be illegal to operate a massage business without a license,” Colorado Springs City Clerk Sarah Johnson told 13 Investigates back in June.  

The Colorado Springs Metro Vice Commander Doug Trainer says if a massage business, that isn't exempted, doesn't possess a license, then officers could issue a summons, which could lead to a fine.

Back in June, CSPD said there were around 30 illegal massage businesses in Colorado Springs actively selling sex for money and trafficking women.

"Our human trafficking team spends a lot of time working those," Colorado Springs Metro Vice Unit Commander Doug Trainer told 13 Investigates. “The illicit spas themselves certainly are significant 'cause there are a lot of them and not enough detectives to focus in that realm.”

Former Metro Vice Unit Commander Scott Whittington told 13 Investigates it takes his team hundreds of hours to build a case against just one massage parlor.

Since 13 Investigates started its ongoing investigation into the world of illicit spas three years ago, pimps have been convicted and elected leaders have taken action.

The new ordinance outlaws sexual activities in the spas, advertisements for sex, and bars employees from living inside a business.

Businesses and the owners that apply for the city’s new massage license are subject to background checks. If a business is found to have a criminal history, for example, a prostitution conviction, their application would be denied by the city. 

In June, the Colorado Springs City Clerk's Office sent out nearly 3,000 letters informing businesses offering massage services of the new law. However, the city clerk's office says there is a large portion of businesses that received a mailer that isn't eligible for the new massage business license.

According to the Colorado Springs Permits Licenses and Records search database, 42 massage businesses in Colorado Springs have either been approved for a massage business license or a self-employed exemption. 

The ordinance does not apply to the following businesses involved in massage services:

  • Public and private schools
  • Government entities
  • Training rooms of recognized professional or amateur sports organizations
  • Health care professionals licensed or registered with any state to provide massage services to the public
  • Barbershops
  • Beauty salons
  • A spa or resort operated on the premises of a hotel with at least 100 rooms for overnight guests

Should a business refuse to comply with a summons or pay a citation, the City of Colorado Springs says the business could be issued a new criminal citation each subsequent day from the city.

The city could also look to pursue other actions, like a public nuisance citation, or other civil actions.

13 Investigates asked Colorado Springs Police about the fate of businesses that don't apply and how they are working to enforce this new law.

In an email CSPD said the following

“This legislative tool will be available for detectives to use when appropriate but it is not the solution to a complex problem I would check with the city to determine what they did to notify the businesses about the license change and if they are not in compliance … we hope there will be voluntary compliance by the massage businesses. We will work with the City towards gaining compliance by all businesses through various means including conversations with businesses ensuring they understand their obligations.”

Colorado Springs Police Department

Colorado Springs Police are responsible for issuing citations to the businesses that are out of compliance with this ordinance. It's unclear if any citations were issued on Thursday.

Colorado Spring City Councilman Dave Donnelson, the elected official responsible for spearheading the massage business license ordinance, says he hoped the police would begin writing citation to massage businesses without a license immediately.

“This isn’t what I expected and I honestly don’t think this is what the folks in the room when we wrote this ordinance expected on September 1," Donnelson said. “My expectation is we are going to use this ordinance  to shut down illicit massage parlors, it was written to do that. Will we solve all of human trafficking? Will this solve all issues in El Paso County? No. We didn’t intend for this ordinance to do that. What we intended for this ordinance to do is take away those businesses where the human trafficking is occurring.”

Back in June, Colorado Springs Vice Unit's Commander Doug Trainer spoke with 13 Investigates about how the ordinance will be implemented in its first days.

"I don't think we have quite the capacity to say that on Sep. 2 we are going to go and address of the 30 different spas," Trainer said. "But it certainly is one of those tools we are going to use and prioritize."

Donnelson says he understands the staffing issues within CSPD, however, the councilman says he will begin pushing to move this process along to rid Colorado Springs of illicit spas as soon as possible.

"I don’t think there is anything that Councilman Donnelson stated that is any different than what we stated," Colorado Springs Police said in response to Donnelson's comments. "The new ordinance is a tool to be used to address businesses that may be used for human trafficking. CSPD will work with the COS as necessary to address that issue."

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