NEW CITY, N.Y. -- Rockland County has won a precedent-setting legal case that establishes the ability of municipalities to use civil penalties against illegal massage parlors and places of prostitution.
County Attorney Thomas Humbach prevailed in the dispute against New City Spa, a business at 55-71 S. Main St., where workers have been repeatedly arrested and charged with prostitution.
The decision by State Supreme Court Judge Gerald Loehr found that the owners of the business violated a statute in the Rockland County Code that prohibits a public nuisance.
The judge also ruled that New City Spa must pay the county $1,000 per day in fines for every day between April 8, 2014, when the county brought the case, and Monday, Aug. 1, when the court decision was filed.
The violations total more than $800,000, Humbach said.
“We will use every effort available to chase businesses conducting illegal activity out of our communities,” said Rockland County Executive Ed Day. “This case sets a precedent and it will allow us to use the Rockland County Code to shut down other nuisances in the county.”
Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who asked Humbach to initiate legal action under the civil code, praised the ruling.
“This decision gives us a powerful new tool to crack down on business when criminal prosecution may not always be effective,” he said. “We could potentially use this precedent to stop other nuisances like gambling and drug-related crimes.”
The spa's owner, 21 Smile Corp., argued in court that the women who worked at the venue were independent contractors and “if they engaged in acts of prostitution, it was without the knowledge of” the business owners.
Loehr stated in his decision, however, that he found that testimony to be “devoid of credibility.”
The decision was issued after a nonjury trial was held Feb. 5, 8 and 9.
The women arrested for prostitution entered into deals with the office of the Rockland district attorney to plead guilty to lesser charges.
Humbach’s victory comes on the heels of a related case the county settled against the owners of the property.
As part of that settlement, the landlords agreed not to renew the lease of 21 Smile Corp.
They also agreed to evict the tenant and pay a fine, according to Assistant Rockland County Attorney Larraine Feiden.
The space where the spa operated is now vacant.
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