Ay, there’s the rub: New York City is suing the owner of 27 Whitehall Street to shut down Happy Life Massage Parlor, alleging the third-floor tenant was offering sex for money.
On three occasions this spring, female employees at the Fidi parlor made that overture to undercover police officers, according to a lawsuit filed by the city Tuesday. The suit says members of the public complained about the business to the NYPD Crime Stoppers program.
MSA Twins Ltd owns the building, according to public records. Vivia Amalfitano, the company’s CEO, could not be reached for comment. In 2002, however, Amalfitano told the New York Times that her family has owned restaurants in the neighborhood since the 1970s.
A 2012 profile of one of Amalfitano’s eateries by Downtown Alliance, an area business group, says “she considers these streets her neighborhood.” Yet, the lawsuit alleges she failed in her responsibility to know what her tenants were up to.
If a building facilitates a “public nuisance” like a brothel, then the owner and lessor are both considered responsible for the nuisance, according to New York’s Administrative Code. The lawsuit says the Crime Stoppers complaints qualify the property as a public nuisance sufficient to implicate Amalfitano.
Now, the city is asking the court to shut the spa down for one year and that each defendant pay $1,000 for every day he or she knowingly permitted or operated the business.
The massage parlor was seemingly naked about its operation: Its website features a woman in lingerie and a testimonial that “the place is clean and the girl was really clean.” The business’ phone number appears in posts on several web forums about prostitution. The forums also refer to another “massage parlor” that used to operate out of 27 Whitehall.
The parlor’s website and phone line remain live, and a call to it was answered Tuesday. However, the receptionist claimed to be unaware of the lawsuit and hung up.