Baltimore County might close loophole on illicit massages

Offering the service without a license would be banned

February 10, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council may make it easier for police to crack down on illicit massages by eliminating a legal loophole that prosecutors say makes it difficult to convict some offenders.

The council yesterday discussed a bill, slated to be voted on Tuesday, that would allow police to arrest anyone "offering to administer a massage without a license."

Howard B. Merker, deputy state's attorney, said county codes prohibit a person from "administering a massage without a license."

But he said that makes it difficult to prosecute an unlicensed masseuse who agrees to perform an illicit service with an undercover police officer, but then changes her mind when she realizes the customer is a police officer.

Merker said that as a matter of policy, Baltimore County police officers are prohibited from disrobing or performing sexual acts as part of an investigation.

Such practices in an undercover sting in Howard County in 1995 led to the dismissal of most of the charges and a comprehensive review of the Howard Police Department's undercover policies.

The Baltimore County bill making it illegal to offer a massage without a license has the endorsement of the Baltimore County police.

Merker said that after a yearlong crackdown by the police, some unlicensed masseuses have begun to realize that if a customer is reluctant to disrobe, they might be dealing with a police officer.

"The officers can't completely disrobe, and sometimes that tips the women off, so this will make enforcement that much easier," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman.

Merker requested the wording change a few months ago after he saw a pattern of three or four cases in which women offering massages returned money to undercover officers.

"Some of the more intelligent illegal masseuses began to realize that if they were dealing with a cop they should give him his money back," he said. "Because the law says only that they may not administer a massage, and says nothing about the offering of a massage, they hadn't done anything wrong according to the present law."

He said the county licensing code could be an effective tool for cracking down on illegal masseuses, but that for a conviction, the women must be "administering a massage."

Merker said the maximum penalty for county violations is six months in jail or a $1,000 fine, he said. He said about 80 cases have been prosecuted, and another 20 cases are awaiting trial.

He said that most offenders have been convicted and were given probation before judgment and fines of about $150.

Merker said that in cases where unlicensed masseuses offer to perform sexual intercourse, they also are charged with solicitation to commit prostitution, a violation of state law that does not require performance of a sex act.

Police began cracking down on illegal masseuses in December 1997 when investigators began hearing reports about an increase in sexually oriented activity, Merker said, some of it promoted through newspaper advertisements.

Merker said the crackdown is intended to prevent other crimes, such as robberies.

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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