WARREN -- The eight massage parlors targeted by investigators agreed Monday to leave the city for at least one year, but the settlement reached by attorneys likely will keep the spas permanently barred from the city.
After weeks of negotiating and about two more hours of talks Monday before a scheduled temporary injunction hearing in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, the two sides reached the agreement in principle, attorneys on both sides said.
Warren Law Director Greg Hicks said after the negotiations that all eight massage parlors, where investigators believe customers paid for sex, agreed to stop operating in the city, to let the city's revocation of their health licenses go unopposed at Wednesday's hearing and take down any signs, including advertisements.
Warren Law Director Greg Hicks, left, and attorney Harry Depietro, who represented the Fantacy, Tokyo and Moon Night spas, speak Monday outside the Trumbull Common Pleas Courthouse in downtown Warren.
''We consider this matter resolved,'' Hicks said. ''No longer will these spas operate in the city. This was a long, hard road and I think we are all glad that it's over.
Attorney Harry Depietro, who represented the Fantacy, Tokyo and Moon Night spas, said the settlement worked for both the parlors and the city. He said his clients wanted to come to an agreement quickly so the businesses can reapply in one year rather than drag out the proceedings.
The building owners, he said, are able to rent the building to new tenants, as long as the businesses are not massage parlors and as soon as they abide by the terms of the settlement.
Depietro also said city attorneys indicated they were wary of putting testimony on the record from 15 customers and several owners and operators during Monday's scheduled hearing because of the pending criminal investigation. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office and Trumbull County prosecutors are reviewing evidence seized from the May 30 raids to determine charges that could include human trafficking, racketeering and money laundering, among others.
''It was the best thing for both parties,'' Depietro said.
The massage parlors have until Sept. 7 to fully comply with the terms of the settlement, which have not yet been finalized, or face a permanent injunction hearing. The licenses for the eight spas are expected to be officially terminated Wednesday by the health department.
Hicks said the spas are allowed to apply for a license through the health department in one year, but that it would be unlikely they would be re-issued licenses.
''In reality,'' he said, ''when the Board of Health sees their application, theyll look at it with a jaundice eye.''
Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said the deal was exactly what the city was hoping for. Franklin praised investigators whom he said provided such a strong case the spas had no other choice but to remain closed.
Franklin also said advertisements on billboards and in Cleveland and Akron area newspapers will also stop, which will help rehabilitate the city's image.
''We're very excited and pleased that it's come to this point,'' Franklin said. ''We worked hard over the past year. It took a lot of due diligence by law enforcement and the investigative teams on this case. It's a great day for the citizens of Warren and for the city's image that has been stained for a number of years.''
The settlements end what attorneys and investigators have referred to as the first of a two-pronged approach at ridding the city of the spas. Charges against the spa owners and operators are the next step.
The investigation started more than a year ago when city police chief Tim Bowers formally requested assistance from the attorney general''s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
Prior to that, Hicks said he tried to recruit help from the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force and the Trumbull and Ashtabula Group Task Force because the force was unable to dedicate special investigators from an already thin force. Bowers said he was lucky that two key members of the Ohio BCI, Northern District chief Cliff Evans and Special Agent Al Bansky, who led the investigation, were former Warren police officers.
Court records hinted that some of the women were sex trafficking victims. Investigators conducted surveillance with the help of two clandestine cameras and caught hundreds of customers, about 40 of which cooperated with investigators.
The men came from as far away as Westlake, Wadsworth and Shelby, a 120-mile trip, and told investigators similar stories that they paid for sex at each of the spas.
One customer, from North Bloomfield, told investigators he believed the girls were brought from Korea to New York to Ohio.
Former employees of the Gemini and Ocean spas that cooperated with investigators said she knew that one man, called a ''jockey,'' transported women from New York City to work in the city's spas. The jockeys also were responsible for transporting the women to Victoria's Secret in Eastwood Mall. They told officials they believed many of the workers were illegal aliens.
In at least one of the spas, the workers were kept there and slept in sleeping bags on the floor, four to a room.
Two spas in Warren and two others in Niles and Braceville remain open, but officials said they are probing the parlors.
''Unfortunately there are still two more operating in the city but we will deal with them just as severely as we dealt with the others,'' Hicks said. ''Those are still under investigation.''