The legal cost of running a brothel may be $375.
That’s how much alleged madam Kuen Ling Cheng has had to pay in court after being charged with two felonies related to running what police say is an illegal brothel.
For 13 months, she has operated Jasmine Beauty and Massage on Central Avenue in Colonie. Police have repeatedly been told that Cheng’s masseuses are selling sex, but despite three sting operations in which every employee was charged with prostitution-related offenses, the business continues.
As police shut Jasmine down for the third time Thursday, they arrested Cheng — again.
But, as before, she quickly hired a lawyer for herself and her employees, all of whom hail from China.
Last time, with the help of a private attorney, Cheng pleaded two felonies down to disorderly conduct, a violation, which is roughly the equivalent of a traffic ticket. Her punishment: a $250 fine and a $125 court surcharge.
This time, she faces one felony and one misdemeanor. But considering the past, police say she probably won’t stop selling sex.
“We have our hands tied,” said Colonie police Lt. Robert Winn. “Would you be deterred from criminal acts if that was all your fine?”
The police department spent $320 on massages during their sting, he noted. “Our cost of being there covered that,” he said in disgust. “There’s not a lot of mechanisms to shut them down. They keep reopening it as a legitimate business.”
Police have tried other options. They spoke with the village mayor, who confirmed he has no legislative authority over the business. Police also called in Village of Colonie code enforcers to investigate the living quarters that Cheng provides for her workers. They sleep on cots in the basement.
No major code violations were found.
“It is definitely crowded,” Winn said. “There is a kitchen and a bathroom. There aren’t bedrooms — it’s one room where there’s two or three cots, a room with a cot and a table, and a kitchenette. It’s definitely not what you or I would expect from an apartment.”
Police first investigated Cheng’s establishment in November 2009. Undercover officers paid for massages. They said the masseuses offered them sex.
“They give you a line like, ‘More money, more happy,’ ” Winn said.
The same scenario occurred during a follow-up visit in February and again on Thursday. Each time, every worker at the facility was arrested.
This time, the women were watching a surveillance camera and tried to sneak out the back when uniformed officers mustered to make the arrests.
“That was new,” Winn said. “But we prepare for that. When they went out the back, there were two officers waiting for them.”
Police charged Cheng, 41, of Albany, with promoting prostitution, a felony, and permitting prostitution, a misdemeanor.
They charged Feng Mei Shi, 43, of Flushing, and Yuxia Huang, 46, of Albany, with prostitution, a misdemeanor. They and a third woman, Yan Ying Wang, 39, of Albany, were also charged with performing massages without a license, a felony.
All of the women are from China, but they are here legally, according to Immigration Customs Enforcement.
They have been sent to the Albany County jail until their bail hearing Monday.