Changes sought in Howard massage parlor law Police investigation last year was criticized

January 25, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

Stung by criticism of a much-publicized investigation by Howard County police into sex at massage parlors -- an investigation in which police officers assert they paid for sexual contacts -- county officials want to change the county's new massage regulations.

The first two court cases resulting from last year's investigation, which ended with the charges put on hold, raise questions about the value of the seven-month probe, during which the county spent $4,260 for massages.

The remaining 11 cases could prove embarrassing for the county Police Department if officers are required to take the witness stand to detail their sexual contacts, which is the goal of at least one defense attorney in the cases.

Moreover, said county Councilman Charles C. Feaga, the county's massage law is flawed.

Mr. Feaga said he has discussed with police and other county officials changes in the law aimed at barring untrained massage technicians from giving massages to members of the opposite sex.

"I believe that 99 percent of men who get massages go to women, and I believe that's where we run into problems," Mr. Feaga said yesterday.

The cross-gender massage ban was first proposed by Police Chief James N. Robey when the current laws were drafted, but the County Council opted for a weaker bill that requires owners and employees to be fingerprinted and have their backgrounds checked, and allows police officers to make unannounced visits.

The county's law does not affect trained massage therapists.

Concern over the county's massage law has risen in the wake of the investigation last year, during which police officers investigated six Howard massage parlors. Officers repeatedly paid for massages that they said included illegal sexual contacts.

Chief Robey has defended the probe as the best way to enforce the existing law.

"With the current inspection procedure, if there is illegal activity going on when we arrive, the activity can stop before we get inside," he said.

The investigation, which ended in October, led to the arrests of 13 women, two of whom have pleaded guilty in exchange for reduced punishment.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said yesterday that he expects the law to be changed.

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