COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- More than three months after Colorado Springs elected leaders passed a law to shut down illicit spas in the city, police say they’ve issued more than 20 citations.
However, 13 Investigates learned the Colorado Springs Police Department believes there are still more than two dozen massage businesses associated with prostitution and human trafficking that remain open.
In total, 13 Investigates found 25 active massage businesses in Colorado Springs that have sexual advertisements or reviews on the explicit website Rubmaps. Colorado Springs Police previously said investigators use the website to identify illicit spas within the city.
In May, Colorado Springs City Council approved the Massage Business License Ordinance.
Before approving the ordinance, Colorado Springs Police told council members there were around 30 massage businesses associated with human trafficking and prostitution exist in the city.
Certain massage businesses are now required to apply for a Massage Business License. Applicants are subject to background checks, and if approved are required to pay annual fees to operate within the city.
Licensed massage businesses are subject to inspections, while those without a license would be issued citations for operating within the city of Colorado Springs illegally.
The Colorado Springs Police Department’s Metro VICE Unit was tasked with enforcing the new law, while the City Clerk's Office accepts and ultimately approves or dismisses applications for massage business licenses.
“I honestly felt in a few months we could’ve inspected each. massage therapy businesses that we had any suspicions about, and by now every one of them would’ve either been shut down or in the process of the court system,” Colorado Springs Councilman Dave Donelson told 13 Investigates.
Donelson strongly backed the massage business ordinance, believing in its effectiveness to shut down illegal activity.
A part of the Massage Business License ordinance is outlawing advertisements for sex.
13 Investigates showed Donelson an advertisement posted in December showing lewd photos of women and a long list of explicit acts they supposedly provide customers.
“I don’t think they respect it,” Donelson said when asked about what massage business owners think about the new law. “I think they see it as the paper tiger or something with no teeth, and you can’t blame them.”
The Colorado Springs Police Department told 13 Investigates they have issued 21 citations associated with the Massage Business License Ordinance since the law’s implementation.
A spokesperson with Colorado Springs Police Department provided case report numbers for all 21 citations.
To obtain the names of the individuals that were cited, the spokesperson directed 13 Investigates to request them from the police department’s records department with a public records request. As of Wednesday, the request is currently being processed.
For the past few weeks, 13 Investigates visited and called dozens of massage businesses across the city of Colorado Springs to see who’s open and who isn’t.
Back in May when the ordinance was passed, 13 Investigates found 33 massage businesses with sexual reviews or advertisements online that were operating in the city. As of December, that number sits at 25.
A spokesperson for the City of Colorado Springs said 46 massage business licenses have been issued since the new law went into effect on Sep. 1.
Out of those 46 licenses, 13 Investigates learned that eight went to businesses possessing sexual reviews on the website Rubmaps.
According to the city’s licensing database, officials issued Victory Spa, located in the 6400 block of Academy Boulevard, a massage business license. However, as of December, there have been sexual reviews left by supposed customers on the business’ Rubmaps page since the law went into effect on Sep 1.
13 Investigates visited Victory Spa to ask about their license and the sexual reviews. Two employees pointed out their license through the city and denied the accusations in the Rubmaps reviews. However, when 13 Investigates arrived at the spa, our cameras captured a woman in a robe being escorted by an employee out the back of the business.
Six more active massage businesses in Colorado with sexual reviews on the website Rubmaps are waiting for the approval of their applications from the city.
Meanwhile, 13 Investigates found eight active massage businesses with sexual reviews online that haven’t applied for a license yet.
So far, the City of Colorado Springs has approved 93 exemptions from the Massage Business License and the annual fees. Out of the exemptions, three still have sexual reviews.
“I would say that’s an example of some of the challenges in that massage ordinance we have. There are loopholes or ways to get around it,” former Colorado Springs Police Officer Chris Burns told 13 Investigates.
Burns retired from the Colorado Springs Police Department a few months He currently sits on the board of the non-profit Southern Colorado Human Trafficking Task Force.
With more than 20 years of experience in the Colorado Springs Police Department, Burns was asked to provide feedback when the new law was being written up by city officials.
Burns said the goal was to formulate policies that wouldn’t harm legitimate massage therapy businesses, while at the same time creating an environment more challenging for illicit massage businesses engaging in prostitution.
“I’m encouraged by any policy that pushes this issue forward,” Burns said. “I felt that there were some areas that could’ve been stronger. For instance, the ability of law enforcement and licensing boards to go into a believed illicit massage business, and if they find violations they can shut them down immediately. I’ve heard that strength is not there.”
Back in June of 2018, the City of Aurora passed a Massage Business ordinance to try and shut down illicit businesses.
Trevor Vaughn the Licensing Division Manager in Aurora said they made lists of the suspected bad actors and inspected them after their ordinance passed.
“Individuals were very scantily clad, evidence of people living in there, and not providing licenses,” Vaughn told 13 Investigates. “This is kind of how they are operating and (we are) building that case file on them so that the issue can be resolved.”
Vaughn said all of the suspected illicit businesses were expelled from Aurora a little more than a year after the ordinance was put into place.
However, the Licensing Manager said some massage businesses suspected of illegal activity initially obtained licenses to operate in Aurora.
The Colorado Springs Police Department declined an on-camera interview for this story. However, Colorado Springs Councilman Donelson believes the department is stretched thin with staffing issues. On top of that, he said there are "other priorities," like fentanyl, to deal with.
Burns with the Human Trafficking Task Force agrees.
“While certainly, we discuss this issue around illicit massage businesses as being a critical issue that we want to address. There is no shortage of critical issues that have to be addressed throughout the city.”
Donelson told 13 Investigates he plans on speaking with Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez about the problem. He believes that city employees outside of the police department can assist in issuing citations or potentially shutting them down.