Howard County police were serving arrest warrants last night for 16 massage parlor employees, culminating a seven-month investigation during which officers witnessed them allegedly engaged in sexual acts at the six county-licensed parlors.
Those named in the warrants were the first to be charged under a tough massage parlor law enacted last year by the County Council to prevent prostitution.
During the investigation, police detectives posed as customers and observed the massage therapists touching customers to sexually stimulate them, police said.
Nine of the massage therapists were in police custody in Ellicott City last night and were expected to appear at bond hearings before a Howard District Court commissioner.
"I hope we put an end to this activity at massage establishments in the county," Lt. Jeffrey Spaulding, commander of the vice and narcotics division, said last night at a press conference in front of police headquarters in Ellicott City.
Last fall, police began enforcing a new law aimed at preventing massage parlors from catering to clients seeking sexual stimulation. The law requires the businesses to obtain licenses, the workers to provide proof of training as therapists and bars any kind of sexual massage.
The law was passed after prostitution arrests were made at some of the massage parlors.
Early this year, police received complaints from women who were refused service at the massage parlors, from customers who complained about scantily clad employees and from wives who were suspicious of hundreds of dollars their spouses had billed to their credit cards, Police Chief James N. Robey said last night.
In April, police began investigating these establishments: Lilly's Spa in Laurel; Hana Spa in Ellicott City; Oriental Spa in Elkridge; and Lotus Shiatsu Spa, Rainbow Spa and the now-closed Shogun Health Spa, all in Jessup.
Investigators found that regular patrons were offered sexual favors and new customers -- the undercover officers included -- were promised similar favors at future visits if they were willing to pay, police said.
Police said the massage therapists named in the warrants had committed at least 60 offenses during the investigation. Two of those arrested were caught committing sexual acts last night, and another employee did not have a license, police said.
No customers were arrested because they had not engaged in intercourse, police said.