Appointed official who is landlord of sketchy massage spa puts Tampa City Council in awkward light

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As the chairman of Tampa’s Code Enforcement Board and a member of the Public Nuisance Abatement Board, Rick Barcena has passed judgment for years on sketchy businesses that pander to the sex trade.

Now an 8 On Your Side investigation reveals Barcena is in an awkward position – he owns property at 3441 West Kennedy Boulevard where Tampa police say an Asian massage spa has profited from prostitution.

Rick Barcena.

Last September, Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward sent Barcena’s company, Top Gun Properties LLC,  a “racketeering” letter as the landlord of Kim’s Spa. They alerted Barcena to a prostitution investigation at the spa where an undercover detective said he was offered sex for money.

The police chief’s letter warned, “This activity may subject your business to be brought before the Public Nuisance Abatement Board.”

Barcena sits on that same city board and has for years. If Tampa police did bring a complaint in front of the nuisance board, Barcena would essentially be passing judgment on his own business interests. That disclosure is now causing some ripples through city hall.

Barcena’s role as landlord of a massage parlor doesn’t sit well with some of the Tampa City Council members who appointed him to a fourth term on the code enforcement and public nuisance board back in 2015.

“Shame on him,” said Tampa City Council Member Charlie Miranda. “He should, if that was the case and he knew about it, either sold the property or ask the tenant to move.”

Fellow council member Mike Suraez is leading the city’s effort to crackdown on massage parlors by regulating them under the city’s old bath house ordinance.

“Once you receive that letter from Tampa Police Department, you should be able to say, ‘I am going to get rid of that tenant as quickly as I possibly can,'” Suarez said. “To me that’s a no-brainer.”

Barcena declined to comment last week, but his attorney Anthony Arena told 8 On Your Side that Barcena tried to evict his massage spa tenant after the warning from police. It’s not clear why Barcena dropped that effort. According to lease records included in that eviction case, Barcena collects about $36,000 a year in rent form the spa.

Arena insists Barcena has no knowledge of prostitution or any other illegal activity going on at Kim’s Spa or a new business – FL Bay Spa – that now operates an Asian massage spa on the same property.

The Polaris Project is a nationally known anti-human trafficking group based in Washington D.C. that has taken an active interest in our 8 on Your Side Storefronts for Sex investigation and Tampa’s effort to take a hard line on Asian massage parlors.

Now, that national activist group is looking at Barcena’s landlord relationship to one of those businesses. They say the name of the spa has changed since Barcena received a warning from police, but that’s where the differences appear to stop.

“The phone number for Kim’s Day Spa, which was advertised on commercial sex sites, is the same number for FL Day Spa,” said Meghan Carton.”Now that he knows, I’m sure he will make sure to cooperate with law enforcement and civil enforcement to make sure any kind of trafficking and exploitative behavior is eliminated from his businesses.”

Barcena’s wife Sonia is a partner In Top Gun Properties, which owns the real estate parcel where the spa operates and also refused to comment when we reached her Monday with questions about what went on behind closed doors at Kim’s and what kind of services are currently offered at FL Bay Spa. Both businesses have been the subject of discussions on sex industry websites such as “RubMaps” and “USASexGuide.”

Sonia Barcena, like her husband Rick, referred all questions to Arena.

Meanwhile, the activist group known as Clean Up Kennedy is now starting to focus its sidewalk demonstrations against brothels in front of the spa that sits on Barcena’s Kennedy Blvd. property.

“I think it’s a shame than anyone would rent out their property to places like this and he of anyone should have known what’s going on if he sits on those boards,” said group leader Joe Manson. “It’s definitely disappointing.”

 

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