It turns out something can be done to discourage 24-hour massage parlors in Warren, despite city leaders allowing an air of tolerance to breed for years.
Ten days ago, when Mayor Doug Franklin and especially Law Director Gregory Hicks staged political photo-ops of themselves boarding up massage parlors. We and probably many community activists couldn't help but recall their reluctance to rid the city of what many believe are black marks on the city's image and maybe even illegal sex and human trafficking operations.
One of those activists, Warren Expressed founder Dennis Blank, wrote in a letter to the editor, ''Hicks' claim to have been cooperative with supporters of the legislation (to crack down on 24-hour massage spas) is laughable to anyone following it closely. He actually failed to attend at least one council legislative committee meeting on this proposal and his claim to have met with MVOC representatives 'numerous times' is patently false.''
MVOC, or Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, created a task force against human trafficking that recommended new laws to help Warren rid itself of image-smearing businesses flourishing in the city. The task force pointed out that 10 of Trumbull County's 12 massage parlors and 43 percent of all massage parlors in Ohio, are located in Warren.
In his letter, Blank added, ''Hicks' antipathy toward the legislation and its supporters was made clear in a recent council meeting when he said from the podium that he had discussed it 'ad nauseam.' Mr. Hicks must have a very weak tummy since he avoids meaningful discussion of the issue like the plague itself.''
City leaders had for years claimed that if illegal sex or human trafficking occurs in the parlors that it would be too difficult to prove. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine swooped in recently and demonstrated that law enforcement can, indeed, prove what happens inside the parlors, illegal or otherwise. The attorney general's office simply staked out some of the parlors and questioned the customers after they left the buildings. Then, based on the customers' answers, agents obtained search warrants to raid eight of the buildings and confiscate more evidence.
The city prosecutor then used that evidence to press charges against the spa operators and receive restraining orders against them.
It's hard to imagine what stopped Hicks or Franklin, who served eight years as safety service director, from calling for such a routine police investigation. But within moments of a judge granting the restraining order, Hicks and Franklin led the team of city workers who posted crime scene tape and padlocks on the buildings.