WARREN - An operator or employee of one of eight massage parlors raided last week by state agents has pleaded not guilty to three health code violations filed by the city after the spa licenses were suspended.
Written not guilty pleas were filed for Song Westphal, 60, 2819 W. Market St., the same address as Hot Sun Spa. No pre-trial date has been set.
Lighted signs at Hot Sun were turned off Wednesday morning.
The written pleas headed off a court date Wednesday in Warren Municipal Court, where the citations were filed by Warren's Health Department, claiming Hot Sun was operating after the licenses were suspended Thursday or Friday.
Westphal's attorney, Gary Rich, who represents Hot Sun and the other seven spas that were raided, said Wednesday that any of the spas are entitled to remain open despite the license suspensions.
''The city's ordinance sets forth that the city can suspend or revoke a health spa license only after a public hearing and after we get 10 days written notice of that hearing,'' Rich said. ''They served the spas with immediate suspensions. The law doesn't provide for that.''
Meanwhile, the city has scheduled a June 27 hearing at 3 p.m. on the suspensions and Law Director Greg Hicks said the hearing is to permanently revoke the licenses of the spas.
''They are entitled to a hearing only if the infraction involves a dispute over terms of the license. We have the right to pull the license immediately if they're illegally operating a bordello,'' Hicks said.
Hicks, meanwhile, is preparing separate nuisance / abatement complaints he said he intends to file in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court by Friday. Those complaints are the first step toward padlocking the businesses even though no criminal charges have been filed yet against owners or employees at the spas.
Hicks said he will use evidence in the form of affidavits and statements from customers or spa employees or even condoms that were grabbed up in the sweep by agents with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
He said he will also have a BCI agent who headed up the yearlong investigation if his testimony is needed in any ex parte hearings to convince judges to declare the businesses a nuisance.
Agents confiscated nearly $100,000 from the businesses, including about $20,000 hidden beneath a floor on one spa. Sex toys were seized along with computers and other records. Hundreds of unused condoms were found under the floor in another spa.
Investigators are trying to determine if the women are victims of sex trafficking and if the parlors are involved in organized crime.
BCI agents said they found some employees living inside the businesses.
The search warrant affidavit for the eight massage parlors said investigators expected to find evidence that could lead to charges of prostitution, compelling prostitution, solicitation, compulsion to involuntary servitude, organized crime, money laundering and kidnapping.
The parlors drew thousands of customers per year and from all over northeast Ohio. Several men told investigators they saw advertisements in several news outlets in Cleveland and Akron and on the Internet.