Murrieta City Council is scheduled to review an appeal filed by a massage parlor operator seeking to open a new location separate from one at which a prostitution arrest took place.
During a special meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, Council will be presented the findings of a hearing held in July about the appeal filed by Lena Wang, owner and operator of Happy Feet at 39535 Los Alamos Road.
Wang previously operated New Energy Body Center at 40365 Murrieta Hot Springs Road, where an employee, Ying Guan, was arrested Feb. 21 on suspicion of prostitution. The masseuse allegedly touched the genitals of an undercover Murrieta police detective, according to city documents.
In addition to a business license, City of Murrieta municipal code requires massage parlor establishments to possess a special operating permit issued by the Murrieta Police Department. There are various regulations that go along with the permit.
The arrest at New Energy Body Center was part of a larger undercover police investigation into possible illegal activity occurring at various massage parlors operating within the city, police said at the time.
Murrieta police subsequently suspended Wang’s permit for New Energy Body Center because she allegedly violated city code by allowing massage of prohibited areas. Further, as the operator/manager, she was found to be responsible for the conduct of all employees while they are on the licensed premises.
As a result, then-Murrieta police Chief Mike Baray acted in his legal capacity to suspend that permit. He later withdrew the suspension and denied Wang’s renewal application when her permit expired in May, according to city documents.
Separately, the chief denied Wang’s application for a massage establishment permit to operate Happy Feet on the same basis that Wang’s existing New Energy permit was suspended for violating the city’s massage establishment regulations.
Wang appealed the suspension and later the denial of a permit to operate Happy Feet.
On Tuesday, there was a grand opening sign posted outside Happy Feet on Los Alamos Road and it appeared to be open for business.
A hearing about Wang’s appeals was held this summer. Although she was in China, her attorney along as well as city legal counsel were present, according to a transcript of the hearing.
According to the transcript, Riverside-based attorney Keith Kelly said his client, Wang, wished to drop the appeal regarding New Energy Body Center because she no longer operated it.
However, he said Wang had made tenant improvements and paid rent on the Happy Feet location. He reiterated that she he had immediately fired the employee accused of prostitution.
Kelly also stated that because cameras or holes to look through are not legally permitted in massage rooms, there was no way for Wang to have knowledge of whether Guan had performed illegal acts prior to that. The employee would have also had to go through a required fingerprinting process, therefore any prior offenses would have prevented her employment, he said.
“We understand...that this behavior went on in one of her prior establishments,” Kelly said. “(We) don’t believe that’s enough to deny her a business permit in moving forward.”
The hearing officer ruled to uphold the chief’s denial of a permit for either location, and recommended the Council do the same.
After its review and evaluation, City Council has 45 days to make a final determination.