NEW CITY, NY – Rockland County has won a precedent-setting legal case that establishes the ability of municipalities to use civil penalties against illegal massage parlors and places of prostitution, county officials announced Wednesday.
County Attorney Thomas Humbach prevailed in a legal case against New City Spa, a business at 55-71 S. Main St., where workers had been repeatedly arrested and charged with prostitution.
The decision by Rockland Supreme Court Judge Gerald Loehr dated Aug. 1 found that the owners of the business violated a statute in the Rockland County Code that prohibits a public nuisance, county officials said in the announcement.
The judge also found that New City Spa must pay the county $1,000 per day in fines for every day between April 8, 2014, when the county brought the case and August 1, 2016, when the court decision was filed.
The violations total more than $800,000, Humbach said.
“We will use every effort available to chase businesses conducting illegal activity out of our communities,” said Rockland County Executive Ed Day. “This case sets a precedent and it will allow us to use the Rockland County Code to shut down other nuisances in the county.”
In addition, the county previously settled its case against the owners of the property. As part of that settlement, the landlords agreed not to renew the lease of 21 Smile Corp., owner of New City Spa.
They also agreed to evict the tenant and to pay a fine, according to the terms of a confidential settlement, according to Assistant Rockland County Attorney Larraine Feiden.
Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who asked Humbach to initiate legal action under the civil code, praised the decision.
“This decision gives us a powerful new tool to crack down on business when criminal prosecution may not always be effective,” Zugibe said. “We could potentially use this precedent to stop other nuisances like gambling and drug-related crimes.”
The owner of 21 Smile Corp., argued in court that the women who worked at New City Spa were independent contractors and “if they engaged in acts of prostitution, it was without the knowledge of” the business owners.
Loehr stated in his decision that he found that testimony to be “devoid of credibility.” The non-jury trial was held February 5, 8, 9, 2016.
The women arrested for prostitution entered into deals with the office of the Rockland District attorney to plead guilty to lesser charges. Many women who work in this field are themselves victims and some might be involved in human trafficking, county officials said.
The space where the spa operated is now vacant.