WARREN - A court hearing on a preliminary injunction to assure the closing of eight massage parlors in Warren was continued Monday after attorneys on both sides agreed that owners of buildings and operators of the spas were not given five days notice to prepare their cases.
Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge W. Wyatt McKay rescheduled the hearing for 9 a.m. June 25 and also said the hearing could run into the next day.
Warren Law Director Greg Hicks said 14 of 15 ''johns,'' or customers who frequented what the city now calls houses of prostitution, had arrived for the hearing. One other customer was out of the country with his family but would be available by next week, he said.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Two subpoenaed informants shield their faces Monday morning during a hearing before Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge W. Wyatt McKay on an injunction to close eight massage parlors in Warren. The hearing was continued.
until June 25.
Hicks also said a deal has been worked out with a handful of defense attorneys to bring the customers before a grand jury on Wednesday and take a record of the men pleading the Fifth Amendment to avoid any self-incrimination to a charge of prostitution. The plea would trigger the city offering the men immunity in exchange for their testimony against what's estimated to be about 20 owners and operators of the eight spas.
''We sent summons to anyone who appeared on a tax bill or a utility bill. We got owners of the property, or anyone running the business,'' Hicks said.
He said the city is in negotiations with at least two spa owner / operators to voluntarily close down, which would free up the property sooner and make it available for new tenants or owners.
''There will be written agreements that spell out no new massage parlors. If they fold up their tent and leave, fine,'' he said. ''We just want them to go away.''
If the defendants fight the nuisance-abatement complaint filed by the city and lose, the building could be boarded up for a full year.
Hicks told reporters that it took a long time to shut down what everyone perceived as prostitution sites because Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation had to come on board. ''They have the manpower and technology to do this. We needed their resources. And we had been in talks with them for a couple years,'' Hicks said.
He also said that two other spas that were never raided or the subject of the abatement proceedings are ''still under a watchful eye.''
Evidence was never gained from one site on East Market Street and another spa on West Market Street has been closed while repairs were being made to the building.
''I've suffered a great deal of bashing and I know people were saying for a long time that we weren't doing anything. But we were,'' Hicks said.
BCI and the Trumbull County Prosecutor's Office is still pursuing an investigation into human trafficking and racketeering.
The allegations surfaced in a yearlong undercover investigation by BCI agents and affidavits from the customers accompanied search warrants that were served during a citywide sweep May 30.
Affidavits only included the customer's initials and statements of what they encountered inside the spas. BCI agents used remote controlled cameras to record license plate numbers and then contacted the customers later to gain the affidavits.
But court rules require actual testimony to avoid hearsay and to allow attorneys for the spas to cross examination on certain points.
Names of the customers since were been made public.