The former owner, Susan Lee Gross, 47, pleaded guilty last fall to transporting women across state lines for prostitution and money laundering. At her sentencing last week, she faced a five-year prison term, but her defense lawyer successfully argued that the sentencing range had been miscalculated, and U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton wound up imposing a 30-month term. He also ordered her to forfeit nearly $250,000 in proceeds from the 15 months of full-service operation.
Meanwhile, the Annandale “spa” is still there, in the townhouse business park behind the Bradlick Shopping Center. It’s not called Peach Therapy any more. But it’s still advertising in all the places where men looking for sex-for-hire go to find them. The task of stamping out places like this, which can be hot spots for human trafficking, is difficult for law enforcement. The message that you can run one for more than a year, rake in hundreds of thousands in profit, and then spend a couple of years in a minimum security camp does not seem like much of a deterrent.
In arguing that Judge Hilton should bring the hammer down on Gross, who had entered a fraudulent marriage to obtain citizenship and “import her two children...and even her nephew,” federal prosecutors added more details of the lurid goings-on in Annandale. The details are after the jump.
We will recall from Gross’s guilty plea that Peach Therapy had about 30 customers a day who paid her a “house fee” of $80 an hour just to walk through the door, and then paid their individual “masseuse” anywhere from $20 for manual manipulation to $400 for the full monty. Women came in from all over the country to work, beginning in 2011, and Gross also had a marketing person on retainer to place ads for Peach Therapy and a regular cab driver to transport her workers.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Frank wrote that Gross “advertised the various sex acts performed at Peach Therapy” on a number of adult websites and wasn’t above performing them herself. She arranged for the cash to be shipped to New York, hidden in a safe-deposit box or stored in a storage facility, which Frank described as “an almost fool-proof scheme to become rich by exploiting prostitutes and then hiding that money from the government.”
Though some might say prostitution is a victimless crime, Frank noted that “many of the patrons of Peach Therapy were married men spending their families’ money to pay for adultery.” A previous court filing said that patrons included a pastor, an OB-GYN, employees of defense contractors, commissioned U.S. military officers and individuals with security clearances.
Frank raised the issue of human trafficking, and wrote that some of the women employees “felt coerced by the circumstances of their lives to prostitute for the defendant.” He said that some of them worked 12 hours a day, seven days per week, and many of them also lived inside the townhouse at 5053B Backlick Road. “At night, they rested their tired bodies on the massage tables,” Frank wrote, “where the very next day the defendant would sell their bodies to any customer willing to pay the price.”
And oh what a price! “Peach Therapy also served as an incubator for venereal disease,” the prosecutor reports, noting that Gross had a rule that “condoms should not be kept at Peach Therapy” because if the police came, a large condom selection “would show that Peach Therapy was a house of prostitution.”
When Gross learned that the police actually were on to her, “she quickly sold Peach Therapy for approximately $50,000,” thereby relinquishing the name brand which “regular customers knew was a place they could obtain sexual intercourse for a price,”Frank wrote.
On Gross’s behalf, her lawyer, Joni C. Robin of Alexandria, made several points, including the facts that she is a single mother of a 12-year-old, she has no proceeds remaining from Peach Therapy and is deeply in debt, had a traumatic childhood and marriage in South Korea and has health problems.
Beyond that, though, Robin noted that Gross was not a pimp and did not engage in human trafficking. “The women that were working there,” Robin said, “not a single one of them was someone who had never been employed in this business before. It’s not as if she was recruiting naive individuals. All of them had worked in similar establishments. All were paid handsomely and did go there voluntarily.”
Robin characterized Gross as a licensed masseuse who was “running a massage business where, admittedly, she gave them [masseuses] an opportunity to offer sexual services in addition to massages.” There was no force or threats involved, Robin said. She also noted that the operators of four similar establishments in Fairfax County, prosecuted in state court rather than federal court, all received no jail time and one got a fine of $50.
But Gross wound up in federal court, and soon in a women’s prison camp in Arizona. And Peach Therapy has been replaced by something called Bada Spa, which apparently had a grand opening recently and does not advertise sex but does offer table showers. Which sounds messy, but is totally legal.