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Prostitution in Surfside massage parlors a tricky problem for town council

Palm Massage is one of three parlors where Surfside police arrested people on suspicion of prostitution in June. It’s now closed, officials said, but one of the parlors is still operating infrequently.
Palm Massage is one of three parlors where Surfside police arrested people on suspicion of prostitution in June. It’s now closed, officials said, but one of the parlors is still operating infrequently. WPDE

A string of prostitution arrests at massage parlors has caused an uproar in Surfside Beach, as town staff study how to prevent lewd behavior in the shops.

On Tuesday, Town Councilman Randle Stevens repeatedly requested that the town adopt an ordinance to “mirror” state law and require licenses for massage therapists.

“We should be proactive and keep these type of businesses out of this town ... they’re involved in organized crime all over this country, all you have to do is Google,” Stevens said.

Four people were arrested in the town in late June on prostitution-related charges at three different massage parlors in the town.

Massage practitioners are already subject to that state law, and other members of council said the lengthy ordinance that Stevens proposed was not needed.

“I have two young children in this town and I don’t want it either here, but I am not a lawyer and I know there’s a state ... law on this issue,” Councilman Tim Courtney said. “This is something we have law enforcement working on.”

But Stevens insisted that adopting a policy nearly identical to state regulations was necessary.

“If you’re a God-fearing person, if you believe in the bible, if you believe in what’s right and wrong ... you’ll support this,” Stevens said.

“I don't know why we’re fighting a simple fix. It’s so simple it’s like falling off a log,” he added.

Town Administrator Micki Fellner said that using nuisance regulations may be a more legally sound way to stop massage parlors that are found to have problems with prostitution. Nuisance laws allow cities and towns to close businesses if they are the sites of repeated criminal activity.

If the town continually shutters businesses with issues, Fellner said, it’ll discourage landlords from renting to shops that cause problems.

“It’s a pretty significant hit them in the pocketbook kind of thing,” she said.

Stevens also proposed that if a massage parlor was closed for prostitution or lewd behavior, another could not open in the same spot for five years. Instead, town council agreed that Surfside’s attorney should study the issue and bring a recommendation to the next meeting.

Surfside Police Chief Kenneth Hofmann said that none of the people arrested in June had legal licenses for massage. He also said there was no indication of organized crime involvement.

Two of the parlors involved have shuttered, Hofmann said, but Juns Therapeutic Massage, at 820 Surfside Dr., is still operating “from time to time.”

He said the town is considering initiating a nuisance complaint against Juns.

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ

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