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County board revokes spa's permit

LAWRENCEVILLE - A massage parlor had its county license revoked Wednesday because a worker there allegedly exposed herself to an undercover police officer.

The decision by a county review board marked the first time a spa license has been revoked since tougher regulations aimed at shuttering sex-selling massage parlors were adopted in 2003.

"This is the first license that has been revoked and the first one that has gone to the appeals process," said county Licensing and Revenue Manager Paul Eppinga, whose office regulates spas, pawn shops, liquor stores and a host of other business activities.

An attorney for Valerie Simmons Morgan, who owns Be Be's Corporate Spa, said the Chamblee resident will appeal the decision to Gwinnett Superior Court.

The Norcross-area business, which is located in a commercial strip center at 5456 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., can remain open during the appeals process, county officials said.

An undercover cop visited the spa near the DeKalb County line in July to ensure it complied with the county's massage ordinance.

The vice unit detective testified Wednesday that after Simmons Morgan began massaging him while wearing a bathing suit, she exposed herself in a suggestive manner and indicated he should masturbate.

Afterward, Simmons Morgan was cited by police for not having an adult entertainment establishment license, which is required of strip clubs, and Eppinga revoked her spa license.

In October, Simmons Morgan told the county she wanted to appeal Eppinga's decision, and a hearing was scheduled before the Licensing and Revenue Appeals Board.

During the hearing Wednesday at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, county attorney Van Stephens said Simmons Morgan's license was revoked because the county requires spa employees to be completely clothed while giving a massage.

"She was clearly exposing herself during the activities," Stephens told the five-member appeals board. "That's a clear violation of the ordinance."

Simmons Morgan's attorney did not respond to the specific allegations or let her testify because of a pending hearing in Recorder's Court on the charge that she operated an adult entertainment establishment without a license.

Her attorney, Alan Begner of Atlanta, did attack Gwinnett's massage ordinance and the county's process for dealing with alleged violations.

"Gwinnett County's business license revocation system is both unfair and unconstitutional," said Begner, who unsuccessfully asked the review board to postpone hearing the appeal until after the criminal charge is adjudicated in December.

Begner also said the ordinance is overly broad when defining what massage-givers can wear.

"Forget cleavage; you could not even show the top of your chest without violating the law," Begner said.

Without discussion, the board voted unanimously to uphold the license revocation.

With help from citizens, police began cracking down a few years ago on massage parlors serving as fronts for prostitution. The illicit operations had migrated to Gwinnett from DeKalb County and Atlanta after rules there became too strict.

Because of loopholes in Gwinnett's regulations, many massage parlors would reopen shortly after being busted for pimping or prostitution. In October 2003, Gwinnett County commissioners overhauled the rules, making it easier to shut down the seedy spas.

Most of the shady operations were located in the Norcross area, but County Commissioner Bert Nasuti said the tighter regulations have chased a lot of them away.

"We have very few of those left in my part of the county," Nasuti said. "I think the ordinance changes have been successful."