As many as 34 illicit therapeutic massage parlors are nonetheless working in higher Colorado Springs
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) — An illegal sex industry with ties to human trafficking is still thriving in Colorado Springs nearly two years after 13 Investigates exposed the problem.
Online reviews suggest as many as 34 illicit massage parlors continue to operate in the greater Colorado Springs area as of March 2021.
City and county officials have acknowledged the troubling issue but little has happened since we told them about the 36 illicit spas operating back in 2019.
Our reporting on the issue has resulted in the Colorado Springs Police Department changing how it investigates illicit massage parlors. In December 2020, those changes resulted in the arrest of spa owner Xinan Xia.
Xia was charged with keeping a house of prostitution, pimping, and money laundering. Despite the seriousness of his charges and the fact CSPD vice investigators identified the women working inside his spas as victims, he was able to open both of the spas where he is accused of committing the crimes back up the day he bailed out of jail.
“No matter what we do, it’s like the next day they have free reign to open back up. And these poor girls,” nearby business owner Mark Bryant previously said.
After the two encounters with 13 Investigates, Xia closed both spas down.
Rose Spa remains closed. Xia eventually reopened Energy Day Spa on North Carefree Drive which is still advertising on the website “Skip the Games” for a cash-only massage with “young and beautiful” massage technicians.
We asked Colorado Springs City Council President Richard Skorman what kind of message that sent to the women working inside the illicit parlors.
“Yeah, it’s not a good message at all and I really feel for them and that they have the ability to escape what they’re being forced to do in many cases,” Skorman said.
Skorman said it’s been challenging to crackdown on the 34 illicit spas still operating during the pandemic. He says health risks make it tough for undercover police operations inside the spas.
The Colorado Springs city code includes a public nuisance ordinance that officials like Skorman touted they would use to stop the spas back in 2019. It allows the city to initiate the abatement process to shut down a business after two instances of pimping or prostitution. However, Mayor John Suthers’ office told us in December 2020 that the ordinance has never been enforced in city history and that using it was a long complex process.
Julee Bellar with the Human Trafficking Task Force of Southern Colorado said she wants to see more done for the potential victims of human trafficking working inside the parlors.
“If we’re serious about helping victims then we walk those long roads, we take all of the twists and turns and we do something about it. So for our city officials, my challenge would be to let’s take it seriously, let’s do something about this,” Bellar said.
Bellar said solving the problem may best happen through a statewide approach.
“It has to be, in my opinion, something that covers the state. So that they don’t just get to shift around and say that oh this county hasn’t done yet so we’ll just move there. If not everybody is working together and unified then we’re not going to be able to solve this issue,” Bellar said.
El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen said he wants tackle the issue with tools in the criminal justice system.
“I think grand jury proceedings would potentially be good. We have the Colorado Organized Crime Act that we can potentially use against some of these massage parlors if we have the evidence to do that,” Allen said.
Allen also said he plans to have a discussion with local law enforcement to find out if they are being as effective as possible in solving the issue.
Council President Skorman told 13 Investigates he is working on setting up a public meeting or work session on the topic in the next few weeks.
In a phone interview with 13 Investigates, Colorado Springs state Rep. Terri Carver said she is working with others to close the loopholes and shut down illicit spas. She plans to make the issue a priority in the 2022 state legislative session.
But until meaningful action or a solution comes there’s little, if any, hope for the women working inside the parlors.