TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) -- An 8 on Your Side investigation into organized prostitution in massage spas along Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard has become a community movement, sparking a sidewalk demonstration last Friday and another sign waving protest planned for this Friday.
"We just want to keep pressure on the city council and let them know we're not going away," said Cleanup Kennedy founder Joe Manson.
Manson calls last Friday's demonstration in front of the Seven Star Spa on Kennedy Boulevard a test run for his fledgling group, and they certainly received a lot of reaction from passing motorists.
"A lot of people were supporting us, they were honking and waving. A lot of people were kind of squinting, like confused, and not knowing what's going on," Manson said. "And then some people actually yelled 'these places are never going away' and 'I love my brothels,' so we had the whole spectrum out here.
It's a problem we first exposed in our Storefronts for Sex investigation in April. When we visited the Seven Star Spa a woman behind the counter dressed in lingerie insisted the only services they offer at that business are massages. She didn't explain her uniform.
Cleanup Kennedy formed after our story's first broadcast and now has 1,300 people in their Facebook group pushing for stricter law enforcement and City of Tampa regulations that would put massage spas that engage in prostitution out of business.
"People in law enforcement and the city officials I've spoken to really do want to do something about this as well, so I'm hopeful we'll see some action here in Tampa Bay," Manson said.
In recent weeks, members of Cleanup Kennedy have repeatedly voiced their concerns at Tampa City Council meetings, as well as taking to the streets with their anti-prostitution message. They were there again last Thursday.
"We encourage you to take responsibility and be part of the solution and make your legacy one that stops this travesty in the city," Ariel Landry told the council.
"I know it's complicated. I know it's difficult. I just want it to be a priority and something we're addressing," said Brandon Pierpont.
Tampa City Councilmen Guido Maniscalco and Mike Suarez are taking the legislative lead and are now working with the city attorney to draft code enforcement regulations that target Kennedy Boulevard spas that engage in prostitution. The city attorney is supposed to make recommendations at the Tampa City Council meeting on July 27 about how to take code enforcement and other actions directly against spa business owners and landlords, instead of the women who work in those establishments.
Meanwhile, FDLE agents and local law enforcement agencies from Naples to Tallahassee recently busted a network of 13 state-licensed Asian spas for prostitution, racketeering and money laundering.
They are also investigating whether human trafficking is embedded in those networked businesses that rely on Asian women to provide sexual services under the guise of massage therapy.
The Florida Department of Health, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is also involved in that case. The statewide prosecutor under Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will handle the cases. Meanwhile, Manson and his growing movement CleanupKennedy.org want to know when things will change in Tampa.
"I'm going to keep working until something does happen," Manson said.STORIES OTHERS ARE CLICKING ON:
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