Officials seek revisions in massage law Flaws perceived

cross-gender ban under consideration

2 women have pleaded guilty

Police said they paid for sexual contacts during 1995 probe

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

A story in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun incorrectly reported the outcome of two court hearings. Cases against Chang Hui Deramo of Falls Church, Va., and Jem Soon Price of Fulton were placed on the District Court's inactive docket. Neither woman pleaded guilty to charges against her.

ZTC

Stung by criticism of the 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 the 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.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The remaining 11 cases could prove embarrassing for the

Howard Police Department if officers are forced 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 chose instead a bill that requires owners and employees to be fingerprinted and have their backgrounds checked and allows police officers to make unannounced visits.

L 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.

In Howard District Court yesterday, Chang Hui Deramo, 34, of Falls Church, Va., agreed to forfeit her county massage license.

The Rainbow Spa employee pleaded guilty to seven charges of massaging erogenous areas of an undercover officer, exposing her erogenous areas and permitting an undercover officer to expose himself during a massage.

Each violation carried a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, but under the agreement with prosecutors, Ms. Deramo will not be fined or jailed, but rather will forfeit her county license for a year.

Her lawyer, Robert Kim, said he thinks the agreement was offered because "they acknowledge there were some mistakes in the investigative process." He said the deal also was in his client's best interest.

Jem Soon Price, 42, of Fulton reached a similar agreement after pleading guilty Jan. 3 to a lesser charge of massaging without a license.

Both women's cases were placed on the court's inactive document, and charges could be dropped in a year if neither woman is arrested.

Prosecutors said they have withdrawn plea agreement offers made to the other 11 women because they did not accept the deals.

Attorney Clarke F. Ahlers, who represents two of the women whose cases are pending, said he wants to expose police actions in a jury trial. He said officers acted improperly during the investigation.

Mr. Ahlers said there is no need for a new law. He said the problem lies in the way police officers investigated the parlors.

"After the Police Department had sufficient evidence to charge people, its officers engaged in sex of a nonevidentiary value," he said, adding that his clients are not guilty.

Police said they investigated the massage parlors after residents complained that some establishments were fronts for illegal sexual practices.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said yesterday that he expects the law to be changed, but he would not say whether he would support the cross-gender ban. "That's up for discussion," Mr. Ecker said.

The County Council voted 3-2 to reject a cross-gender ban when Police Chief Robey asked for the measure in February 1994.

Chief Robey said yesterday that he had discussed changes in the law this week with Mr. Feaga because massage parlors operating illegally were able to thwart enforcement of the current legislation.

He said parlor operators are able to cover up illegal conduct quickly, even when officers make unannounced visits. Chief Robey would not say how a cross-gender ban would improve enforcement, saying discussions were preliminary.

Anne Arundel County prohibits opposite-sex massages, exempting trained therapists who have 500 hours of training and certification, or 200 hours of training if they are enrolled in a certified massage school.

Gail Watson, an assistant Anne Arundel County attorney, said the law has improved enforcement and has not drawn any court challenges based on allegations of discrimination.

Jeffery L. Young, president of the American Massage Therapy Association's Maryland chapter, said he would support a cross-gender ban that exempts trained therapists.

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