TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Tampa’s Public Nuisance Abatement Board met as scheduled Tuesday morning, despite the absence of four-term member Rick Barcena, who has now missed three straight sessions.
Barcena has been in the limelight lately after 8 on Your Side discovered he is the landlord of one of the more notorious Asian massage spa locations operating on Kennedy Blvd—a location where Tampa police claim they uncovered prostitution last year during an undercover investigation.
Records indicate Barcena collects about $36,000 a year in rent from the spa business owners.
For weeks now, Barcena has dodged our attempts to interview him, but his attorney Anthony Arena insists Barcena doesn’t believe that prostitution is a problem on his property at 3441 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Arena points to the failure of Tampa police to make an arrest in September 2016 after an undercover detective reported a sex for money offer by one of the workers at Kim’s Spa. Police say the suspect had vanished by the time they returned to make an arrest.
Kim’s Spa later became known as FL Bay Spa, which remains in operation. Barcena made a short-lived attempt to evict Kim’s, but dropped the case for reasons that are not clear in the court file.
After Tampa police say they discovered prostitution inside Kim’s Spa, they sent Barcena a “racketeering” letter threatening possible action by Tampa’s nuisance board—the same board that Barcena sits on—but now rarely attends.
“If he doesn’t take the board seriously and is not going to show up to the meetings, then he should give up his seat to someone who will be. Someone who cares about his community,” said Joe Manson, who started a group called Clean Up Kennedy to fight human trafficking in the dozen or so spas that line Kennedy’s thoroughfare.
The nuisance board chairman, James Chittenden, was unaware of Barcena’s landlord relationship with the notorious spa until 8 on Your Side brought it to his attention.
“That might represent a conflict of interest,” said Chittenden. “Therefore, we would expect a board member to recuse themselves in a situation like that.”
Chittenden was even more disturbed to learn Barcena had received a “racketeering” letter from Tampa police last year, threatening to bring him before the same board. Under City of Tampa rules, a code enforcement/nuisance board member can lose their seat if they miss two out of three meetings. Barcena has now missed three in a row.
Chittenden tells us it’s not his decision whether Barcena stays or goes, because Barcena was appointed to a fourth term by the Tampa City Council.
“That’s between him and the city council,” Chittenden said.
Meanwhile, Manson believes Barcena no longer deserves to sit in judgment over Tampa’s errant sex businesses and other nuisances brought before the board.
“Since this board deals specifically with properties that have these types of things going on in them, I think it’s kinda hypocritical for him to be on this board.”
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