Fluorescent lights flicker behind the purple and bamboo curtains at 4302 Nicollet Ave. in Kingfield. A sticker declaring that the business accepts Visa, Mastercard and Discover is stuck to the storefront window's corner. The front door is boarded where police broke the glass while making an arrest last week in an undercover prostitution sting.
A 21-year-old Burnsville resident named Dorothy Ann Leon was charged with the gross misdemeanor of prostitution in a public place. On different websites, the business at the location was alternately referred to as Starlight Massage, Star Massage or Cosmo Spa and Salon.
4302 Nicollet Ave. S. is a small storefront wedged into a building with multiple tenants. Away from busy Nicollet Avenue, the neighborhood is mostly residential. Neighbors said she’d been at the storefront for two or three months and that men frequented the business through the front door. Although the storefront’s direct neighbors declined to comment, other neighbors say the space had previously housed suspect tenants that had operated more under the radar. Some neighbors report public disputes while Leon occupied the storefront.
“She always had a couple guys hanging around who it looked like were there for muscle,” said Jay Hurley, who works at the nearby Anodyne coffeehouse and also lives in the neighborhood. “One day, one of those guys picked (Leon) up and body-slammed her on the sidewalk in the middle of the day.”
The undercover sting was a response to community complaints about the storefront, said Minneapolis Police Department spokesman Sgt. William Palmer. The precinct's crime prevention specialists forwarded complaints to police.
An officer assigned to an undercover sting operation of Leon’s storefront arranged to meet Leon the afternoon of March 31. They negotiated for a “massage to completion” at a price of $130. The officer asked if Leon wanted him to wear a condom, and she said no, according to the criminal complaint. Leon was then arrested.
The next day, Assistant Minneapolis City Attorney Timothy Richards filed charges against Leon for a gross misdemeanor that could carry up to one year of jail time and a $3,000 fine. She was released from Hennepin County Jail the same day. Her first court appearance is April 15.
Leon likely won't be allowed to return to the space, police said, and the city's inspections department is now handling the matter with the landlord.
While her presence on the street was blatantly open, Leon also advertised her massage business across the internet, from a Facebook page attached to her profile to adult listings. In a free listing at backpage.com, which is run by City Pages’ parent company Village Voice Media, Leon posted photos and contact info: “I'm located in south Minneapolis, close to Diamond Lake Rd., in a professional business front on a residential block. There is street parking available.”
Leon posted four times on backpage.com between that first post and her final post March 24, where she offered to get “half naked” for $50 extra. Leon’s number also appeared in at least nine ads promoting massage in City Pages’ print edition since October 2009. Just last month, a Burnsville man was sentenced to 28 years for employing a 16-year-old prostitute who was advertised on Backpage.com. That site avoided the crackdown by states' attorneys general that prompted Craigslist to change its policy last year on adult ads.
Minneapolis spokesman Matt Liable, speaking for the city attorney's office, said law enforcement was aware of the ads during the preliminary investigation, but that it wasn't yet clear how they would factor into the prosecution of the Leon case. The office expects to file no more charges against Leon.