Berkeley police officers exchanged high-fives in Old City Hall Thursday night after the Zoning Adjustments Board voted to shutter the Golden Gypsy Massage Parlor for good.
City staffers made a convincing case to the board that the so-called massage parlor at 2628 Telegraph Ave. operated, in fact, as a brothel.
The board was presented with reviews of individual Golden Gypsy prostitutes found on the Internet. Police played a tape of a suspect confessing that he bought sex at the parlor for years, even after the BPD shut it down last July.
The police also said they discovered about 80 videotapes secretly shot at the parlor during a raid on the house of Thomas Robinson, the parlor’s owner.
The Golden Gypsy matter seemed incongruous with the ZAB’s usual business of weighing the desirability of new buildings in the city. It does have the power, though, to revoke the Gypsy’s “use permit,” which allows it to conduct business on the site – a power the board exercised with a 7-1 vote.
The permit, which was awarded in 1977, is for a massage parlor, and it stipulates that no “other activities” are allowed on the premises.
Though members of the planning staff, the city attorney’s office and the Berkeley Police Department made calm and professional presentations to the board, the tale they told was unquestionably lurid.
BPD Detective Stan Libed told the board that he was assigned to investigate the case in May, after the department received two letters from concerned citizens: one from a disappointed client who had hoped to get a real massage, and another from a member of a “well-known Berkeley family” who discovered, after hiring a private investigator, that her husband was visiting the site.
Libed said that another officer searched the internet for references to the Golden Gypsy, and found the reviews that were given to board members before the meeting. He then staked out the building and found condoms and related materials in the dumpster.
Shortly afterwards, the BPD sent undercover officers into the parlor. They were propositioned, many arrests were made and the business was closed.
Later, officers conducted a search of Robinson’s home, where they discovered videotapes that they suspected were shot at the Golden Gypsy.
When they returned to the parlor in October to confirm that the videos were shot there, they ran into a man coming down the stairs. Upstairs, they found a used condom, a bag containing lingerie, $300 and Robinson’s wife.
Deputy City Attorney Laura McKinney played the board the audio of the man’s confession to police interrogators. The man admitted that he gave the money and the lingerie to Mrs. Robinson, whom he knew as “Lacey.”
“The $300 was for what?” police asked the suspect.
“A massage and... other activities,” he answered.
“What activities, specifically?”
The police asked the suspect to be even more specific, and he complied.
“When we left the Golden Gypsy, you received a call on your cellular phone,” the officer continued. “Who was it?”
“What did she say?”
“She said that she was sorry about what happened.”
“Did she say anything else?”
“She said she wanted to have her attorney call me. I told her I wasn’t into that.”
The ZAB spent very little time discussing whether or not to revoke the parlor’s use permit. Board member Dave Blake, however, did mount an argument in opposition.
“I think this is a moral issue, and I’m surprised it has gotten this far with the city,” he said.
Blake said that when considering a revocation, the board normally measured the violator’s impact on the community.
“It seems to me the worst detriment to the community here is increased parking and traffic,” he said.
“It’s certainly possible to run a bad house of prostitution. This is a quiet one. I don’t think it’s such a detriment.”
Board Chair Carolyn Weinberger reminded Blake that they had received a letter from a doctor that works in a medical office near the Golden Gypsy. The doctor said that she was often harassed and even propositioned when she walked past the parlor.
Blake conceded the point, but not his vote.
On Friday, he said: “If this were any other misbehaving permit holder, we would have just said, ‘Clean up your act, buddy.’”
Robinson has the right to appeal the board’s decision to the City Council, but according to Matt LeGrant of the planning department, he will not.
“The attorney for the property owner at 2628 Telegraph represented in writing, in the form of a letter to the city attorney’s office, that they would not contest the revocation proceedings that the board finished last night,” LeGrant said on Friday.
The attorney, William Berland, was not present at the meeting. On Friday, a receptionist in Berland’s office said that he refused to comment on the issue.