Business & Finance

Pine Brook Massage Parlor Shut Down After Several Failed Inspections

Swan Lake Spa in Pine Brook ©2018 TAPinto Montville Credits: Melissa Benno
Montville Township Health Board Chairman Charles J. Perry ©2018 TAPinto Montville Credits: Melissa Benno
Montville Township Health Officer Aimee Puluso ©2018 TAPinto Montville Credits: Melissa Benno
The inner door with a doorbell of Swan Lake Spa in Pine Brook ©2018 TAPinto Montville Credits: Melissa Benno
The location of Swan Lake Spa ©2018 TAPinto Montville Credits: Melissa Benno

MONTVILLE, NJ – A used prophylactic in the trash, apparent “table showers,” and the implication of employees sleeping and cooking in the Swan Lake Spa massage parlor in Pine Brook resulted in the spa’s license revocation at a hearing held by the Board of Health March 12.

The spa had been in business on Route 46 since 2012 and had been subject to a revised 2012 ordinance that required periodic inspections, Montville Township Health Officer Aimee Puluso said.

Puluso read the following violations to the board which included:

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  • In 2013, 2015, and 2016 inspections found licensing problems, both with employees and the spa itself.
  • The Sept. 2016 inspection resulted in the business being temporarily closed. During the inspection, Puluso said two practitioners fled the building, leaving the inspector alone. The inspector requested the police, health official, construction official and fire official respond to the spa, due to violations observed, which Puluso said included:
    • A used prophylactic was observed in one of the treatment rooms.
    • There were sleeping and excessive living items (bedding, pillow, clothing, toiletries, cooking items) observed.
    • A fully stocked refrigerator with more food than needed for one day was observed.
    • One employee had no license, the other employee had no license displayed, and had no photo ID.
  • Health department officials held a meeting with the owner, who expressed shock at the conduct of her employees, Puluso said, but she told owner Sun Ja Choi she is responsible for the conduct of her employees whether the owner is on the premises or not. The business was re-inspected and allowed to re-open within the same month.
  • In Nov. 2016 the spa was re-inspected and the inspector was at first refused access to the business. Puluso said sleeping quarters were observed in the establishment, such as mats, blankets, toiletries, and a fully stocked fridge. The coverings on the tables had deteriorated, which results in the inability to sanitize them. The business was issued a summons.
  • In Dec. 2016 the spa was again re-inspected. There were raw ingredients in the refrigerator, which means that cooking was happening, and equipment for cooking was observed. According to Puluso, there were personal items in the dryer mixed in with the items for the business. Choi made a guilty plea in court.
  • Multiple violations were once again observed during the Feb. 2017 inspection. This time, the spa had a locked door between the reception area and the treatment area, with a doorbell and a sign stating “ring bell.” Puluso said the vinyl coverings on the massage tables were still deteriorated and not able to be sanitized, required signage was not posted, and required intake/treatment records were not being kept.
  • In March 2017 the inner door from reception was still locked when the inspector arrived, no intake/treatment records existed, and the spa was fined $250 for repeat inspection fees and $300 for repeat violation fees, according to Puluso. The cooking equipment and more food than is needed for one day were noted too.
  • Once again the spa was rated unsatisfactory and ordered closed following its Dec. 28, 2017 inspection, and the business was fined a $250 re-inspection fee and fines of $1,050 levied. Puluso said the seven repeat violations were found and included: lock and bell on inner door, signage lacking (2 counts), no records kept, sleeping items observed, freezer and fridge overly stocked, food prep equipment, excessive personal items. Additionally, the inspector found a therapist whose physical exam was only a TB test, no disinfection plan or employee list, soap not affixed to wall/counter, no paper towels in bathroom, improper license displaying, walls in poor repair after sinks installed, creams in wide-mouth jars rather than more sanitary pump containers, and hours of operation past the ordinance-restricted 10 p.m.

Puluso said she conducted an online search of the business and found on a website that “table showers” were advertised by the business, but those are not permitted by Montville Township ordinance.

The business was re-inspected the same day, rated conditionally satisfactory, and allowed to reopen, according to Puluso.

Finally Puluso said the business was ordered closed on Feb. 6, 2018 and fined $1,050 plus a $250 re-inspection fee, because of the following violations:

  • A new violation was observed -- a plastic covered table in the shower room (this is called a “table shower”)
  • Sleeping items and excessive personal items
  • Raw, bulk food in the fridge and freezer
  • Food prep and cooking equipment observed
  • Employees could not produce the disinfection plan and were not aware of its existence
  • No list of employees
  • No intake/treatment records since Oct. 2017

Puluso said a re-inspection was conducted two days later and the problems were abated aside from a license still pending for one employee, but Puluso informed Choi and her attorney that due to the quantity of violations, the seriousness of the violations, and the repeat history of the violations, Choi would need to come to the Board of Health for a permit revocation hearing.

At the hearing, Choi’s lawyer Matthew Jeon questioned Puluso whether a microwave would be allowed on the premises rather than the rice cooker that was cited and she said yes. He seemed to object to the garbage bags holding the bedding being outside of the business being considered a violation, and he stated that it is common among Asians to sit on a blanket or comforter on the floor to eat, and this should not be considered “sleeping quarters.” Puluso stated that no matter how they’re being used, the ordinance prohibits them from being on the floor. Jeon also questioned why the permit to do business was possibly being revoked at the hearing, when the violations could be addressed, and Puluso repeated that due to the seriousness, sheer quantity and repeat nature of many of the violations, the hearing had become necessary.

Jeon asked which violations Puluso considered serious, and Puluso listed and explained them. She said refusing the inspector entry is serious, and evidence of sleeping quarters is a fire hazard. Having no intake or treatment records is not only against local but also state laws. The signage violations were not serious, she said, but the repeated violations “demonstrate a lack of willingness to comply with the ordinance.” She also called the table shower a serious violation, among others she listed.

The board went into executive session. When they returned, they unanimously voted to revoke Choi’s license. Jeon said he would be appealing the decision on Choi’s behalf.

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