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State v. Stephens

July 10, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 06-11-2054.

Per curiam.


Submitted June 10, 2008

Before Judges Lintner and Parrillo.

Following a jury trial, defendant Linda Stephens was found guilty of third-degree promoting prostitution, N.J.S.A. 2C:34-1(b)(2)*fn1 on July 19, 2006. She was sentenced to three years probation and one-hundred hours of community service. Defendant appeals, and we affirm.

According to the State's proofs, Minish Patel, owner of Jay and Manny Corporation, leased space at 10 Meadowlands Parkway, Secaucas, where he built the Pegasus Spa in 2003. In March 2004, by written agreement, he sold the Pegasus Spa to defendant, although the lease remained in his name because of defendant's poor credit. Defendant executed a promissory note and a shareholder's agreement, which named her President of Jay and Manny Corporation and gave her responsibility for the dayto-day operations of the Pegasus Spa.

Police investigation into the Pegasus Spa was spurred by Kimberly Bennett, a graduate of the Chubb Institute in Jersey City, a massage training school, which arranged for her to interview for a masseuse position at Pegasus Spa, after her graduation in March 2006. Bennett arrived at the spa in the early evening and was greeted by a Ms. Lee, who interviewed her for the position and who Bennett later identified as defendant. Defendant indicated to Bennett that she was looking for a certified massage therapist, a person who "knew what she was doing[,]" and that previously, "she had gotten in trouble for hiring pretty girls that didn't know anything about massage." Compensation would be tips plus $20 per hour.

At the end of the interview, defendant asked if Bennett would like to give a massage, a routine practice in that field. Bennett was given a customer whom she escorted into one of the massage rooms, and then stepped outside to allow him to disrobe. When Bennett re-entered the room, the customer was lying on his front fully undressed under a cover. She massaged him face down initially. However, when the customer turned over on his back, "[h]e grabbed his penis with one hand and grabbed [Bennett's] hand with the other and pulled [her] towards him." Bennett yelled and screamed, defendant walked in the room, and Bennett ran to the bathroom to wash her hands.

Defendant talked to Bennett after the incident and said the problem might go away if the customer became a regular, and Bennett was more familiar with him. Defendant explained, "whatever you want to happen behind closed doors can happen. And that maybe next time [Bennett] should ask the customer how much of a tip [he's] going to give [her]."

Bennett reported the incident to the Secaucus Police Department, where she gave a verbal statement to two officers, and then signed a written report dated July 14, 2006. During the interview, Bennett was shown a photo array wherein she identified defendant as Ms. Lee.*fn2

Sergeant Joseph Baccola of the Secaucus Police Department was assigned to the follow-up investigation. On July 19, 2006, Baccola, dressed in plain-clothes, went to the spa, equipped with $100 in marked bills, $80 of which was to pay for a massage.

When Baccola entered the spa, he was greeted by Gisella Corrochano who asked if he wanted a massage. He responded affirmatively and was led into a massage room where he undressed and laid down on a table naked with no covers, since none were provided. Corrochano re-entered the room, draped a towel on Baccola and began massaging him, starting with his shoulders, then buttocks, and then grazing his testicles and inner thighs and concentrating on that area. Three-quarters of the way into the massage, the masseuse stopped and asked if Baccola wanted anything else. He wanted to know how much a "hand-job" would be, to which she responded $60 fully clothed, $85 topless, and $125 naked. Baccola offered her the $20 dollars remaining, which she deemed not worth the effort, and completed the massage.

Baccola dressed, walked outside, informed the other officers of what transpired inside, and immediately re-entered the salon to make arrests. Corrochano was arrested with two other female employees, Giovanna Zamarano and Tae, and two male customers. The marked money was recovered from the salon, and two envelopes were recovered from a lockbox.

Tae was originally indicted along with defendant, but the charges were dropped after she pled guilty to a lesser charge on a different prostitution complaint and her cooperation in this matter.*fn3 According to Tae, she worked at Pegasus Spa on and off for about a year. She knew defendant as "Julie," the owner of Pegasus Spa. On an average workday, when a customer came into the spa, defendant would greet the person, guide him or her into a massage room, then assign a masseuse to the customer. Tae had been hired to do full body massages, and any "little extra service" requested, which meant she would use her hands to touch a customer's penis, but nothing else. For her services, she would earn only the customer's tip, not a share of the $80 massage fee.

Defendant was aware that Tae "masturbate[d] the customer with [her] hands" because when Tae complained to defendant about a lack of tips in April 2006, defendant told her to "provide some extra special massage, then you get a tip." Customers would generally tip between $20-$40 for this service. Most of Tae's customers were male, and only 30% of her clients wanted regular massages with nothing "extra."

Defendant was not working at the spa on July 19, 2006, the day Tae was arrested, so the masseuses greeted and took care of their own customers. The money for the massages was placed in a lockbox to be picked up by defendant at the end of the day. In the spa that day there were three customers and three masseuses, so each masseuse had one person, and Tae was arrested about five ...

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