A Linthicum massage parlor that has been selling sex for at least a year -- legally -- has been ordered closed for violating county zoning laws.
On Wednesday, county zoning officials ordered the parlor, which is advertised as a health spa called V.I.P., shut down for operating in a community retail district, where massage parlors are prohibited.
County police have been investigating V.I.P. and another Linthicum parlor, Rose's Oriental Spa, for several months. They have been unable to close them even though they found female masseuses offering more than the standard rubdown.
"These operations employ female masseuses who offer full-body massages, including masturbation of the genitals, for a fee of $60," explained a July 26 internal memo from Police Chief Robert P. Russell.
Such sexual activity falls through thecracks of both state and county law, said Deputy State's Attorney William Roessler. Sexual-offense statutes apply only in cases where consent is not granted; solicitation laws cover cases involving only intercourse or "unnatural sexual practices," defined as oral or anal sex.
"There's no law against masturbation," defined as manual stimulation of one's own or another's genitals, said County Councilman George F. Bachman, D-Linthicum.
Bachman intends to change that soon. Atthe urging of Russell, Bachman says he is working with the county administration on a bill that would make it illegal to buy or sell manual stimulation.
"We've got peep shows. Now we've got massage parlors. We've got to stop all this stuff," Bachman said.
V.I.P., at 500 Camp Meade Road, has been running a massage parlor for at least a year, said police spokesman V. Richard Molloy. Vice squads, which periodically check the handful of parlors in Anne Arundel, discovered several months ago that masturbation was a part of the package, he said.
Several Linthicum women who thought V.I.P. really was a health spa went to the police after they tried to buy a membership but were turned away. "They won't let women past the door," said Anne Yakaitis, president of the Women's Club of Linthicum, which has been pressuringpolice to take action against V.I.P.
Elizabeth Plummer said she and another female friend visited V.I.P. about amonth ago and found themselves in a small, dark foyer in front of a locked door. A young woman appeared at a window and told them there were no memberships and no equipment.
"She said, 'We have just a Jacuzzi.' So I said, 'OK,we'd like to see the Jacuzzi.' She said, 'No Jacuzzi. Just a sauna.'We said we'd like to see the sauna. She said, 'No sauna. Just massage.' We kind of got the drift," Plummer said.
Besides reporting thesituation to the police, Plummer filed a sexual-discrimination complaint with the state Human Relations Commission.
"I hope they're gone for good," Plummer said, after learning of the zoning office's decision to close V.I.P. "I don't think the community wants this sort ofthing."
V.I.P. remained open yesterday. The general manager, who identified himself only as "Jimmy," said V.I.P. has not yet received a letter ordering them to close. He also denied that V.I.P. admits men only.
"Ladies, too," he said. "Husbands and wives come. No discrimination."
The owner of the property, George Pappas of Cockeysville, could not be reached for comment.
Jimmy said V.I.P. was planned as a health spa but became a massage parlor because Pappas did not have the money for exercise equipment.
He said a real estate agentwas asked to check into zoning requirements, and V.I.P. was told there was no problem.
One Linthicum businesswoman, who refused to give her name, said she sees men -- but no women -- going in and out of V.I.P. from 9 a.m. to midnight, the parlor's hours of operation. Teen-age boys also regularly walk in, although they rarely get past the locked door, the woman said.
The customers appear to be in their 20s to 60s, and most look respectable. "They're no sleaze bags," she said. "They look very, very ashamed."
Ads for V.I.P., which have runin Fort Meade's Sound Off! newspaper and The Sun's sports pages, saythe firm offers saunas, Jacuzzis, body shampoos, relaxation and Shiatsu massage.
Most of the employees are young women, police said. Undercover vice officers tried to solicit the women for prostitution but were refused, said Molloy. "They stick to their guns as far as what they will do," he said.
Molloy said it's common to find illicit sexual activity at massage parlors. But in most cases the employees accept money for prostitution, allowing police to make arrests. The women at V.I.P. and Rose's, which remains open on Dorsey Road, apparently know the law, Molloy said.
The letter from Acting Zoning Administrator Richard Josephson orders V.I.P. to close immediately. Massageparlors are allowed a special exception only in general commercial and highway commercial districts. A public hearing must be conducted on all requests for special exceptions.