A Billings spa has been shut down and criminal charges could be coming after its business license was denied on suspicion of operating as an illicit massage business.
Sky Spa is the seventh massage business in Billings to be denied a license.
It all comes after the Billings City Council enacted an ordinance last year to in hopes of cracking down on human trafficking and forced prostitution.
The city denied the license after finding nine violations. The owners did not appeal, cannot reapply for another year and are now no longer in business in Billings.
"The illicit massage industry, they typically have blacked out windows, their front doors are often locked," said Penny Ronning, co-founder of the Yellowstone Area Human Trafficking Task Force. "Typically, they're open all hours of the day and night."
She says some workers at these spas may have massage licenses.
"They're still being used, exploited in in a sexual manner," Ronning said. "They're still going to be exploited that way because the massage is only the entry level to what the sexual exploitation is going to be."
Ronning said the closure of Sky Spa ends human trafficking and sexual exploitation at that building at 901 S. 32nd St. W.
"To the best of my knowledge, she brought females in, female worker victims in from other states," Ronning said. "And that's typically for Billings, the victim workers will come from other states. It's very rare that it's someone right here from billings."
An ordinance passed in April of 2021 led to the city's code enforcement denying the license to Sky Spa/Kim's massage
"We asked code enforcement to go out and do an inspection to see that the location is zoned appropriately, that it meets the criteria of the ordinance," said Andy Zoeller, city of Billings finance director.
Zoeller said code enforcement found nine violations.
Among the nine violations include the location being used as a residence, locked interior doors, all windows blocked by cloth or obstruction and no licensed massage therapist on site.
"The ordinance has been pretty effective actually getting the illegitimate businesses closed down or moved out of city limits," Zoeller said.
"The largest shutdown of human trafficking has happened within this past year in Billings because of this massage and spa facility license," Ronning said.
And Ronning says it may be more than closing businesses.
"They've got criminal charges pending," she said.
Q2 News contacted the Sky Spa owner but have not heard back.
Meanwhile Ronning says the FBI had a list of 17 illicit massage businesses with some voluntarily closing, seven getting denied licenses and three or four more close to getting shut down.