City Attorney Dennis Herrera puts landlords on notice that they cannot turn a blind eye to illegal businesses that harm neighborhoods
SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 3, 2017) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today announced he had reached a settlement that closes one San Francisco brothel in the Financial District and that he filed a separate lawsuit to shut down another brothel across the street from a Richmond District preschool that was the source of repeated community complaints. Both businesses used massage parlors as fronts for prostitution.
The settlement reached with both the landlord and the business owner of Queen’s Health Center, a notorious Financial District brothel, requires them to pay the city $295,000. It also puts in place a tough injunction that prevents the space from being used as a massage parlor or similar business for at least 10 years and prohibits the business owner from simply opening up another massage parlor elsewhere in the city.
As part of the Queen’s settlement, the business owner, Jie Qin Zhou, is prohibited from opening, managing, investing in or working in any massage parlor or other personal service business, like a barber shop or nail salon, in San Francisco for 10 years. She cannot own or manage one of those types of businesses outside of San Francisco for five years. The building owner, Frank B. Iavarone as trustee for a family trust, is prohibited from leasing to a massage parlor or personal service business for 10 years. The settlement also requires Zhou to pay $195,000 and Iavarone to pay $100,000.
“After Queen’s Health Center thumbed its nose at authorities for years, we were finally able to put an end to their rampant violations of the law,” Herrera said. “I’m pleased that we reached a settlement that not only shuts their doors for good, but recoups some of the city’s enforcement costs. Let me be clear. The women exploited in these establishments are the victims. Our approach is to hold to account the business and the property owners who are profiting off exploitation, blighting neighborhoods and harming legitimate businesses. Property owners can’t look the other way. They have to take responsibility for the decisions they make. We will not let the business or the property owner get away with flouting the law.”
“I also want to thank the San Francisco Police Department and Department of Public Health,” Herrera said. “Their hard work and partnership with our office helped us build such strong cases.”
Herrera filed a lawsuit against Queen’s Health Center in February 2017 for violating an egregious number of local laws and the California Red Light Abatement Law. Queen’s Health Center had been operating as a covert brothel at 325 Kearny St. since at least April 2010 despite numerous violations, administrative penalties and law enforcement investigations conducted to stop its unlawful activity. Even after the Department of Public Health suspended Queen’s massage license for 60 days over the summer of 2016, Queen’s re-opened and went right back to exploiting women, as subsequent undercover operations discovered. The massage parlor closed within a month of Herrera filing his lawsuit and now will not be able to reopen.
Paradise Case Brought
Herrera also filed a separate lawsuit yesterday in San Francisco Superior Court against Paradise Health Center, a Richmond District massage parlor, for operating a covert brothel and engaging in similar illegal behavior to that found at Queen’s Health Center.
Paradise is located at 242 Balboa St., across the street from a preschool. It is also less than a quarter of a mile from an elementary school and is immediately adjacent to a Muni 31-Balboa bus stop that elementary school students frequent. For years it has been the subject of complaints by neighbors, school parents and staff.
Earlier this year the Department of Public Health suspended Paradise’s massage business permit for 60 days, forcing it to close temporarily. Once the suspension was over, the illicit activity started right back up.
“It is completely unacceptable to have a brothel across the street from a preschool,” Herrera said. “The Department of Public Health gave notice that this had to stop but were ignored. Paradise and its landlord have no respect for the law or this community, and they have made a business out of exploiting women. With this lawsuit I aim to shutter them once and for all, and to hold this business and this landlord responsible. We were successful before in the case of Queen’s Health Center, and I am confident that we will be again.”
“I’m pleased that the city is moving to shut down this massage parlor that is in clear violation of the law and negatively impacting our neighborhood,” said Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who represents the district where Paradise is located.
Undeterred by 60-Day Suspension
The lawsuit names business owners Tian Yi Zhao and Chiu Hung Paul Tam; the family trust that owns the property; and its trustee, Lisa Tang. The suit alleges that the defendants are in violation of the California Red Light Abatement Law (Penal Code sections 11225-11235) and have engaged in unfair and unlawful business practices.
According to the complaint, since at least October 2012 Paradise has solicited prostitution through advertisements on backpage.com and other sources notorious for soliciting erotic services. The advertisements depict scantily clad women in provocative poses and highlight the ethnicities of the women available to choose from for a “massage.” Paradise has continued to regularly post these ads, even as recently as Sept. 29 on backpage.com.
In efforts to hide their illegal activities, Paradise implemented several unlawful tactics. They maintained security cameras outside, locked the front entrance during business hours and used a buzzer system to control entry – all in violation of the Planning Code and the Health Code.
The Department of Public Health has also issued numerous violations of the Health Code regulating massage practices, including several instances of massage practitioners not being fully clothed while working, employing unlicensed massage practitioners, and operating between the prohibited hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. On May 10, 2016, police and public health inspectors observed a massage practitioner engaging in a sexual act with a customer. As a result, the Department of Public Health suspended their massage business permit for 60 days in March 2017.
Despite the suspension, Paradise continued to advertise on backpage.com soliciting prostitution. After they reopened, they went right back to prostitution. Police conducted an undercover operation on Sept. 15 during which a massage practitioner solicited an undercover officer for sex.
Herrera is asking the court to do several things: close the business for a year; sell the business’ fixtures and movable property at auction, with proceeds going to fund enforcement; grant a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting the property from being used as a massage establishment and the owners from operating one; and levy monetary penalties against the property owner and business owner. Those penalties include up to $25,000 for allowing prostitution to occur on the premises; at least $200 for each day in violation of the Planning Code; and $2,500 for each unlawful business act.
The cases are: City and County of San Francisco and People of the State of California v. Queens Health Center et al., San Francisco Superior Court case no. CGC-17-557054, filed Feb. 14, 2017 and City and County of San Francisco and People of the State of California v. Paradise Health Center et al., San Francisco Superior Court case no. CGC-17-561648. Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website at: https://www.sfcityattorney.org/.
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