Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2014

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Massage studio closed for alleged prostitution allowed to reopen

A Henderson massage studio shut down last month by the city for alleged prostitution will be allowed to reopen, a district judge ruled Tuesday.

District Judge Kenneth Cory granted a request by Sunset Spa & Foot Massage, 4451 E. Sunset Road, which argued the City Council violated its constitutional rights when it decided May 3 to revoke the studio's operating permit.

City officials are regrouping to decide whether to appeal Cory's ruling or file a new case to revoke the permit of Sunset Spa. A closure of a second Henderson massage studio is scheduled to be challenged Monday in district court.

Las Vegas attorney Linda Norvell, who represented Sunset Spa, said her client, Hong-Cheng Aaron Yan, is happy he can resume the business, but said there will be some uncertainty on how long he can keep his doors open.

"I can't predict what they (city officials) will do," Norvell said. "They targeted us in the past. Maybe it will end with this decision, but I wouldn't be surprised if they brought it back. If they did, they would be leaving themselves open to the same legal trouble."

Cory ruled that the basis for the council revoking Yan's permit wasn't clearly stated in the complaint filed against him. That didn't give Yan a chance to defend himself during the revocation hearing before the council, he said.

Norvell accused the city of acting illegally when it made findings related to Yan's fitness to operate the business without listing it in the complaint.

Henderson Assistant City Attorney Liza Conroy said she's disappointed and surprised by Cory's ruling.

"We thought there was clearly substantial evidence to support the council's decision," Conroy said. "We will accept his decision and move forward."

As for Sunset Spa reopening, Conroy said she hopes the business conducts itself in a lawful manner, but there are no plans by the city to monitor the business more than any other massage studio.

In the past, Norvell has accused the city of targeting Asian-owned businesses when it revoked the permits of three massage studios -- an allegation city officials denied. City officials said they investigated all businesses that offer massages after citizens complained that therapists offered sexual acts.

Henderson Oriental Massage, 1006 W. Sunset Road, will challenge its closure in district court on Monday, said Las Vegas attorney Richard Schonfeld. He said Tuesday's ruling gives him even more confidence they will prevail.

The owners of Relax Spa & Massage, 256 E. Lake Mead Parkway, didn't challenge the city's closure because his client couldn't afford the $5,000 expense, said Las Vegas attorney James "Bucky" Buchanan.

In arguments before Cory, Norvell accused the city of penalizing Yan for the actions of a previous owner. Yan didn't take over operation of the studio until July 15, 2004, more than two months after a Henderson sting uncovered alleged prostitution. Under Yan's ownership, an employee was charged only with city code violation of failing to cover a client with a towel.

Conroy said the council disregarded the actions of the previous owner when it decided to revoke Yan's permit.

A sting operation conducted between May and July 2004 uncovered alleged prostitution at four of the six stand-alone massage studios, city officials said. The council is mulling a ban on all new stand-alone studios.

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