For more than six years, city officials have tried and failed to permanently shut down what they have called a scofflaw madame’s brothel at the edge of Chinatown, believed to be one of many fronting as massage parlors in San Francisco.
Now, a new tactic is being used in the hope that Queen’s Health Center and its ilk stay closed for good, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is taking civil action, asking for a temporary injunction against the alleged brothel, its owner and the owner of the building as one of the latest efforts to shut down an operation that health officials and police have failed to close in the past.
“Massage parlors operating as fronts for prostitution are a blight on our neighborhoods and put women and the community at risk,” Herrera said.
“Queen’s Health Center is one of the worst offenders,” he continued. “Over the years, city agencies have found multiple violations, issued fines and even suspended its business permit. But the business owner, Jie Qin Zhou, has repeatedly come up with new ways to hide and flout the law. No more.”
The lawsuit is meant to send a message to brothel owners and the property owners from whom they rent that both will be held responsible for the profits they make off “exploiting women,” Herrera said.
City officials believe suing the alleged brothel owner and building owner will result in the business’ closure since it goes after both of their pocketbooks. Instead of simply revoking a permit or charging the madame with a misdemeanor, this lawsuit aims to limit the flow of cash to both the building’s owner and tenant.
According to court documents, Queen’s is similar to a handful of other massage parlors masquerading as massage establishments, which have been closed by the Department of Public Health, only to open up again with a different name or at a different location. From 2008 to 2013, DPH revoked 73 permits, but 45 of those business reopened.
The motion for a civil injunction, set to be filed this morning in San Francisco Superior Court, requests the building be vacated for a year and that the alleged brothel owner and building owner be forced to pay fines.
The lawsuit alleges city code violations as well as a violation of a state law passed to stamp out prostitution, the Red Light Abatement Law, and targets the brothel’s owner, Jie Qin Zhou, and the Kearney Street building’s owner, Frank B. Iavarone.
The lawsuit alleges the premises have been used for prostitution since at least 2010 and is a “place of prostitution, assignation, and lewdness, in violation of the California Penal Code and local health and safety laws, and as a public nuisance.”
Over that time the brothel has posted ads on Backpage.com, Craigslist.com, SF Weekly and “other online and print sources notorious for soliciting erotic services,” according to court documents.
In an attachment to the lawsuit, the Backpage.com ads posted by the operation show “young Asian females dressed provocatively and advertised” as masseuses.
In 2012, one online review on Yelp — which echoed subsequent reviews — seemed to indicate what the operation was really about.
“This is the place where you think of kinky massage, over the phone they doesn’t disclose anything, you need to make sure you are getting what you need,,,[sic] you can choose the massage therapist to be nude or in sexy lingerie during the session,,,[sic] price varies as you add on… basic price is 60/hr, overall it closest to Bangkok style massage, code word is boom boom…:).”
In the past six years, a number of criminal and civil actions have been taken in order to stop the operation, but all seem to have failed, according to the lawsuit.
Those include DPH issuing dozens of violations of city health codes that govern licensed massage parlors. DPH has issued violations for masseuses not wearing the proper attire or being partially nude. It has also issued violations because the establishment locks its doors during business hours.
The police have also conducted investigations and searches of the operation, to no avail. In a 2014 undercover operation, police found numerous patrons who said they’d come for sex. The rooms, each with a doorstop, include warning lights notifying workers of their presence.
During a joint undercover investigation in January 2016, a San Francisco police officer was offered “group sex” with masseuses for $320. When a search warrant was issued, police found “false bottom containers, United States currency, ledgers, sex toys, and sexual lubricant.”
Zhou was charged with a misdemeanor of keeping or living in a house of ill fame in February 2016.
Law enforcement also found lingerie, high heels and other attire not usual for masseuses. Images taken during the searches show women lined up on a long bench with white lab coats on.
After last year’s raid, Queen’s license was subsequently suspended, but the operation started again and ads were put online soon after.
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