ST. CHARLES – It had been about 13 months since the last prostitution arrest in St. Charles when police last month charged a massage parlor employee with the Class A misdemeanor.
And then they made another prostitution arrest.
These arrests happened within weeks of each other and equal the total number of such arrests made from 2010 to 2013, according to the St. Charles Police Department's annual reports for those years.
Mayor Ray Rogina takes the recent arrests as a sign that the police are doing their job and doing it effectively, he said.
"That would get anybody to think twice to do that activity in the community," he said.
In each case, the women worked at a business that offers massages: H.H. Health Care Therapy, 525 S. Tyler Road, Unit O; Blue Sky Spa, 1700 Lincoln Highway, Suite J; and Royal Spa, 504 E. Main St.
Checking massage establishments isn't new for police, St. Charles Police Cmdr. Jerry Gatlin said. He said the difference between now and prior years is the number of massage parlors.
"There are more of them opening up throughout the region," he said. "It is not unique to St. Charles."
In Elburn, for example, a massage therapy business along Route 38 attracted the village's attention last year because it was in conflict with the zoning code. Elburn later dropped its case against the owner after it appeared the business also was being used as a tanning salon.
Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns said his city hasn't had any issues with massage establishments. He noted the city's police department keeps a "close eye" on the businesses, much like it does for liquor and tobacco compliance checks.
"We've had no issues whatsoever," Burns said. "We welcome the reputable businesses in town."
Knowing which massage parlors are reputable and which aren't can be difficult.
"The mere fact that people go in and out of the door doesn't mean a crime is going on," Gatlin said.
In order to charge someone of prostitution, he said, police must witness an offer for a sexual service. But getting to that point depends on the right circumstances, Gatlin said, noting undercover officers aren't always offered a service.
"Just because you don't see an arrest doesn't mean we're not doing anything," Gatlin said. "It's just not automatic when you go through the door. Timing's everything sometimes."
In 2012, St. Charles police conducted seven compliance and license inspections of massage parlors. That year netted no arrests or citations for violations, according to the annual report.
When checking compliance, Gatlin said, police are ensuring that the establishment's license is posted as required by the state of Illinois.
"Beyond that, we are simply checking them periodically or in response to a complaint to make sure they're offering legitimate services," Gatlin said. "Obviously, in some cases they are offering more."
A prostitution arrest doesn't necessarily mean the establishment will close, as the charge is against an individual, Gatlin said.
"Many times what we have seen so far is the massage therapist that has been cited for the violation leaves the area," he said. "They appear to be very transient."
Police will, however, continue to work with the landlord to address the problems, Gatlin said. He said police also can address the problem through nuisance abatement procedures for multiple offenses. A due process is involved in these cases, he said.
At least one of the massage parlors connected to a recent prostitution arrest has since closed. Gatlin said that business was struggling to make rent, and the building's out-of-state owner was more than happy to help address the problem.
"That's our goal: cooperation from landlords and compliance from business owners," Gatlin said.
Rogina said he wouldn't want the recent prostitution arrests in St. Charles to paint a bad picture for massage therapists industrywide.
"There are plenty of good massage therapists," he said.
Characteristics of reputable massage businesses include those that are tied to other services, such as full-service spa facilities, and those connected to a medical license, such as clinics, rehabilitation facilities and physical therapy practices, Gatlin said.
Establishments with prominent locations, high visibility, a large staff and regular business hours also are indicators of a reputable place, he said.
To make a complaint against a business, citizens may call the St. Charles Police Department at 630-377-4435 and ask for an investigations officer or call the Drug & Crime Tip Line at 866-378-4267 to remain anonymous.
St. Charles Police Cmdr. Jerry Gatlin said prostitution is a Class A misdemeanor but provisions in the law allow enhancement to a Class 4 felony under certain conditions, such as the proximity to a school.
"It's a fairly complex statute," he said.
Prostitution is a probational offense, Gatlin said, and typically there will be a fine. Any misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail, he said.
The only element the judge doesn't have authority over is the offender's massage license, Gatlin said. He said the state of Illinois would address that through the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.