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Mesa police cracking down on illicit massage parlors

The Mesa City Council has approved changes to its regulations to fill "loopholes" that allow more than 60 suspected illicit massage parlors to remain in business.

MESA, Ariz. — The City of Mesa is attempting to close a "revolving door" on local massage parlors that repeatedly practice nefarious activities.  

On Monday, the Mesa City Council voted to adopt revisions to its codes regulating massage businesses by adding stricter guidelines intended to root out bad actors. 

The changes include adding more legal liabilities for the owners and landlords of massage businesses that don't attempt to stop criminal activity from occurring on their property. 

Applicants seeking permits to operate a massage business will now be denied if they have previously had their license revoked within the last three years. 

The Mesa Police Department suspects the city has at least 63 suspected illicit massage businesses -- more than any other city in the East Valley. 

“There is a disproportionate number of those businesses within the city of Mesa,” said Assistant Chief Lee Rankin.

Mesa police wants to support legitimate businesses, he said, while cracking down on the illicit parlors that prey on the community. 

The new regulations add businesses that categorize themselves as "bodywork" establishments to the same licensing standards as massage businesses. State law does not define bodywork, which might could non-touch forms of therapy, as being in the same realm of massage therapy. 

Officials in Mesa say this loophole allows some bodywork businesses to be exempt from the same regulations as establishments with massage licenses.

The new codes notably remove a requirement for law enforcement to allow parlor patrons time to get dressed before entering a room to conduct an inspection. 

The American Massage Therapy Association has penned a letter of support for the city's policy changes to remove illicit parlors.

"We commend the removal of language that would have allowed loopholes for unlicensed and untrained individuals to fraudulently practice under the guise of massage therapy in the City of Mesa," the association wrote.

Mayor John Giles said he's glad to see the city update its regulations and add more accountability to the people who own illicit businesses.

“I hope I get a lot of angry phone calls from people who own strip malls,” the mayor said during a council meeting.

Credit: City of Mesa
A heat map displaying where Mesa's illicit massage businesses currently operate throughout the city. Most of the suspected businesses are congregated around the city's southwest side.

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