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Planning Board denies special permit for Korean Massage

Date: 3/28/2013

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW — The conclusion of a special permit hearing with the Planning Board included no happy ending for the Korean Massage Therapy Center.

Gye-Hwa Shin, the owner of the massage establishment at 611 North Main St., which has been the subject of three separate raids in connection with possible prostitution and illegal immigration, was denied a special permit after a unanimous vote by the Planning Board at the March 26 continuation of the permit hearing.

While Korean Massage may pursue the matter further in court, without the permit, the business would have to shut down and may only reopen if a court overturns the board's decision, Planning Board Chair George Kingston, explained. The Board of Health and zoning enforcement officers would also be informed of the decision.

Kingston added that should the company decide to reopen the business as an Asian Body Works establishment, it would have to go through the site plan review process again.

The following day, however, it appeared the business was not heeding the Planning Board's mandate. A call from Reminder Publications to the published number was answered and the person on the line indicated the business was open.

Before the vote, Kingston said the uses of the property "were not in harmony with the zoning bylaws" and Planning Board member Michael Przybylowicz added that he suspected "a lack of institutional control."

It was the allegations of illegal activity that prompted the Board of Selectmen to prepare a warrant article that required all licensed massage businesses to obtain a special permit. That article was approved at the May 21, 2012 Annual Town Meeting.

Kingston referenced police reports regarding the police actions taken in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

"What we're asking is what controls are in place to make sure that these don't happen again?" he asked Shin and her attorney Robert Ward said. "What's different now than what there was in 2011?"

Ward, who was also the attorney representing Korean Massage in the court cases that followed those raids, countered by stating that he objected to the inclusion of those police reports because there were no convictions.

"I ask that they not be allowed because they are unnecessarily prejudicial with no factual basis of truth in them," Ward said adding that those involved were found not guilty.

Kingston corrected him by saying that the cases were dismissed at Ward's request and there was no verdict in the cases.

He also said the inclusion of the reports was valid.

"I would remind you, counselor, that this is not a criminal prosecution; this is a hearing by a special permit granting authority," he said. " The documents that I am introducing into the record are official town documents that were produced by our Police Department and in a hearing of this type, this is acceptable information for this board to consider. This is not a criminal proceeding. We are not under the rules of evidence."

Ward also said he did not believe that Shin was the owner of the business at the time of those raids, to which Kingston responded that Shin was at least working at the establishment during the 2011 police action.

Shin told Ward, who subsequently told the board, that she and the other worker in the establishment — who would be performing Asian body works and not massage — had a policy that if a client solicited one for sexual acts, they would inform their co-worker and the authorities would be called. He said it was not a written policy, but a verbal agreement between the two employees designed for their protection. He said that since the institution of the policy, there has not been the need for police.

Kingston questioned how the two could be running the business 13 hours a day, seven days a week, when Shin maintains other business and interests in New York and Michigan as Ward had stated at the Feb. 12 meeting, calling the assertion "implausible."

Shin later admitted she is not at the business seven days a week, prompting the board to again question the policy's validity. No explanation was given as to what the policy would be if an employee were to be solicited while alone.

Kingston also introduced printouts from,, websites that review erotic massage parlors and, a website specializing in adult singles ads and escort services, all of which listed Korean Massage.

In addition to these presented by Kingston, Reminder Publications, located mentions and reviews of Korean Massage on a message board on and, a website that charges up to $24.99 per month to provide members with information on such establishments, including the specific services they provide and the forms of payment they accept. These were not included in the hearing.

Kingston also produced evidence of an x-rated ad placed on the website that advertises nude photos of and erotic massages performed by a 28-year-old woman. A ad presented by Kingston also provided a photo of a woman other than Shin.

Shin stated she was 50 and the Asian body works therapist was 48, so Ward said that the ad clearly did not represent his client and claimed that the person who put up the ad was "somebody," but no one associated with the business.

Ward again objected to the evidence being entered as prejudicial and stated that the board could not prove that his client was responsible for any of it, but Kingston responded by saying that the evidence presented, as well as the previous history of the business represented a pattern.

While leaving the Town Hall after hearing the board's decision, Shin and Ward declined to comment on whether or not they planned to appeal the decision.