BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A case involving alleged pandering for prostitution that began in 2015 found its way in front of a North Lee County jury on Tuesday.
State prosecutors from Johnson County are prosecuting Douglas Fenlaw, who leased property at 2621 Avenue L, to open a business called the Avenue L Day Spa with an Asian woman named Yu Hong.
Charged with pandering for prostitution, Fenlaw is facing a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a possible $7,500 fine.
Pandering is defined in Iowa as a person who persuades, arranges, coerces, or otherwise causes another, not a minor, to become a prostitute or to return to the practice of prostitution after having abandoned it, or keeps or maintains any premises for the purposes of prostitution, or takes a share in the income from such premises knowing the character and content of such income, commits a class “D” felony.
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According to testimony Tuesday from several law enforcement officers who went undercover as part of the investigation into the Day Spa, Hong went by the name “Lisa” at the spa and communicated with mostly hand gestures, because she spoke very little English.
The state didn’t accuse Fenlaw of persuading Hong to become a prostitute, but argued the other two elements of the crime, contending Fenlaw kept and maintained the premises, owned by Shane Carter of Fort Madison, for purposes of prostitution, and took a share of the income knowing what the money was paid for.
Attorney Curt Dial of Keokuk is representing Fenlaw.
Called to testify on Tuesday were Carter, Fort Madison Building Director Doug Krogmeier, Chad Cangas, a correctional supervisor at Iowa State Penitentiary, two undercover law enforcement officers, Sgt. David Doyle of the Fort Madison Police Department, and two special agents with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations.
Krogmeier and Carter testified to the purpose of the building and the permits that were obtained to put up interior walls at the spa to create rooms for customers.
Cangas testified that he worked to schedule a massage at the facility because he likes Asian style shiatzu deep tissue massages. He said he’s had massages at those types of places around the state and in different parts of the country, typically at mall locations, but said this massage was not what he typically receives.
“I thought it was a very uncomfortable, terrible massage and after the 30 minutes were over, I left. She really didn’t do any form of massage,” Cangas said.
He told the jury he began to get uncomfortable when the girl climbed up on the table and had his head between her knees and started rubbing his chest and then had her bare stomach touching his face,”
Cangas, who is also a sitting Fort Madison City Councilman, said he went to speak to Fort Madison Police captains Bruce Niggemeyer and Bruce Gustafson about the incident. He told the police he was concerned about the legitimacy of the business.
Andrea Jensen of the Johnson County Attorney’s office, along with Rachel Zimmerman-Smith, were prosecuting the case after former Lee County Attorney Clinton Boddicker asked for a special prosecutor in Dec. of 2017.
Jensen asked Cangas if any sexual acts were performed other than what he described in his testimony and Cangas indicated nothing of that nature occurred.
The two undercover police officers however both indicated touching of a sexual nature did occur when they went in undercover, however no sexual acts took place.
Holly Witt, a special agent with the DCI’s Division of Intelligence said she and another female officer also went in to the Day Spa undercover posing as girls looking to schedule a bachelorette party. Witt said she saw nothing in the Day Spa she thought would be indicative of a traditional day spa such as hair treatments and pedicures. Witt testified that it was her experience that Day Spas that are open long hours and charge by the half hour are typically associated with illegal activity. Witt said the sign on the side door of the salon indicated the hours were from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and rates indicated $40 for 30 minutes, $60 for 60 minutes and $90 for 90 minutes.
Witt said she also spoke with a “Lisa” who was dressed in a spaghetti top with short-shorts and sandals. Witt said her 11 years experience has taught her that legitimate day spa staff wouldn’t dress that way and typical ads in places like BackPage.com that solicit illegal activity show people dressed that way.
During later testimony with DCI Special Agent Joe Lestina, Jensen tried to get District Judge Ty Rogers to allow a screen shot of a BackPage advertisement that featured the Avenue L spa admitted into evidence, but Dial was able to block it saying the state hadn’t shown foundation for the evidence to be allowed.
After clearing the jury, Rogers took up the argument and said the ad wouldn’t be allowed because it was just a snapshot of the advertisement and the state didn’t produce any testimony to support the evidence. Jensen argued to no avail that the document was a public document that anyone could capture so it didn’t require foundation.
Lestina said he interviewed Fenlaw for about three hours as part of the investigation and Fenlaw admitted to buying ad space on BackPage and knew the culture of that site was for illegal activity.
A thirty second snippet of an interview between the two was played for the jury and Fenlaw said he was aware of the illicit nature of BackPage.com and did purchase advertising there. Fenlaw also told Lestina that he had what he felt was a boyfriend/fiancee relationship with Hong and didn’t want Hong to do anything illegal.
Lestina also testified that the interview revealed a verbal agreement that existed between Hong and Fenlaw where Hong would pay $1,500 a month to Fenlaw for the lease and business costs and Fenlaw would take her to wire money to China, usually between $2,000 and $2,900 and that happened on several occasions. He also testified that Fenlaw admitted to buying jewelry for Hong to help her with some financial security. When the operations were shut down, he said Fenlaw asked for the jewelry back from law enforcement.
“If he provided that based on their relationship, I found that be very strange that he would want that back,” Lestina said.
Dial asked Lestina if Fenlaw indicated he didn’t want Hong to engage in prostitution and Lestina said that was correct. But Lestina testified that Fenlaw said he was 95% certain that she wasn’t engaged in prostitution.
The state rested its case on Tuesday and Dial requested a directed verdict of not guilty or a dismissal because prosecutors hadn’t produced any evidence showing any sexual activity occurred on the part of Hong nor was Fenlaw aware of any sexual activity going on at the spa.
Rogers denied the motion, although he did indicate the state hadn’t proven that Fenlaw had caused Hong to engage in any prostitution, so the first part of the pandering charge will not be argued.
Dial said he would need a couple hours on Wednesday to wrap up his client’s case before it goes to the 12-member jury.