Berkeley -- The City Council voted to close two massage parlors Tuesday night whose female employees were giving their male customers much, much more than back rubs, investigators say.
Tuesday night's action brings the number of Berkeley massage parlors ordered closed on allegations of prostitution to 12 in the past 18 months, said Gregory Daniel, code enforcement supervisor for the city. More closures are expected.
One University Avenue business called Magic Fingers that was ordered to close in April but has not yet done so, was the site of a takeover robbery two weeks ago in which a woman and a man forced employees at gunpoint into a backroom and stole about $2,000 in cash, police said.
Daniels said the massage parlor owners, who operate a lucrative cash-only business, are tenacious.
"Since April, we had six applications to reopen massage establishments in new locations or existing locations," Daniel said. "They're trying to reopen as fast as we are shutting them down. But none of them have reopened. In one case, an employee of an establishment we closed submitted an application to open in the same location under a different name."
Daniel said the city used online massage parlor reviews that mention the massage parlor, the specific sex act performed and the name of the female employee to document instances of prostitution.
During the course of his investigation, Daniel said he found that many of the mostly Asian women working at the massage parlors regularly move between establishments in Berkeley, El Cerrito and Emeryville.
He also said property owners at some of the establishments are involved in the businesses.
"Contrary to what most people think, these people are sophisticated and we suspect someone is assisting them," Daniels said. "In several instances, we had property owners and property managers advocate for these folks to help them try and get permits.
Daniels started the investigation in 2011 after neighbors of Lucky Health Center on Woolsey Street complained about prostitution there. The city investigated and shut that business down.
At Tuesday night's City Council meeting, members talked about forwarding information from Daniel's investigation to the Alameda County district attorney. City Manager Christine Daniel, who is not related to Gregory Daniel, instead suggested posting the names of the revoked permit holders on its website and sharing the information with city managers in other nearby towns.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.