Vulnerable Democrat Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) claimed, without evidence, that “racism” was behind concerns that a building he owns that now houses a seedy massage parlor, but newly resurfaced newspaper reports from the 1970s and 1980s indicate there is proof the location previously was busted by law enforcement for running a “house of prostitution.”
The building, located in La Crosse, Wisconsin, at 219 Pearl St., is now owned by Kind. Property records show he purchased the building in 1993. The current occupant of the space, Asian Sunny Massage, first opened its doors in the spring of 2018—about three years ago. Local news reports indicate that police have responded to calls at the location a total of seven times in the last three years, including several times in the middle of the night. No charges have been brought against Asian Sunny Massage, and the parlor’s attorney insists upon its operators’ innocence.
But before Kind purchased the building in 1993, local newspaper reports indicate, the exact same location came under serious legal fire in the late 1970s and early 1980s as it was deemed by law enforcement to be a “house of prostitution,” leading to the conviction of multiple operators of the establishment a little over a decade before the Democrat congressman bought it.
The La Crosse Tribune, on Jan. 15, 1975, ran a headline that stated: “Massage Parlor Laws Requested; Some Local Parlors Under Continuous Investigation.”
In the report, the Tribune’s Terry Rochester revealed that the location that would less than two decades later be owned by a now sitting U.S. Democrat congressman was known for illicit activity.
“The sign outside says ‘massage parlor-sauna,’” Rochester wrote in the newspaper report. “Inside the front door is a locked door and a doorbell. Beyond the locked door it’s dark. Upon entering one has to let his eyes adjust to the darkness before noticing that the woman leading him in is braless in a low-cut nightgown. On the walls are pictures of posed nude women. There’s also a nude statue in a lighted case.”
The report pictured a woman named DeeDee Forman giving a massage in a bikini to a man appearing to wear only a towel at the location that the Democrat congressman now owns.
The La Crosse Tribune report quotes then Captain Ray Lichtie of the La Crosse Police Department’s detective division as saying that several local massage parlors were under what the newspaper reporter called “continuous investigation.” The police captain was cited as backing local masseuses in a push for more regulation from the government to crack down on alleged prostitution at these establishments. Lichtie was pushing for some sort of licensing requirements in such spas as the ones highlighted in this report—including one that was located at the exact same address that Kind would later purchase.
“Even if the fee were only $1, it would give the police a chance to do a background investigation on the operators and report to the Council,” the police captain said. “It would be some control.”
Lichtie added that under the then-current regulations, it was difficult for police to investigate such places. “We have used several methods of investigating some rather weird reports we’ve received about local parlors, but we can’t substantiate the reports,” Lichtie said.
Later in the piece, the then-manager of VIP—the massage parlor at 219 Pearl St.—is quoted extensively discussing the services offered at his establishment:
The latest massage parlor to open is VIP, 219 Pearl St. It’s owned by Ron Gaustad, according to his stepbrother, Dick Miller, who identified himself as manager.
“Good, glad to see it,” was Miller’s response to possible regulation from the city. He, as the other operators said, would like the number of parlors limited to say, the three currently operating.
“Strictly straight… no genital massage,” Miller says of his VIP place. He said his girls change from nightgowns without bras to bikinis for exchange massages, but go no further.
Asked if the men are required to wear a towel, Miller answered “They are asked to, but I don’t check. I don’t know (if they keep it on).”
“We want the guys to feel wanted, we thought of opening a ‘rap parlor,’ they’re big in California,” Miller said. He admitted many massage parlors in the Los Angeles area are fronts for other activities and make house call massages.
Miller concluded, “You can go to the ‘Y’ (YMCA) for a massage, but you can come here (to a parlor) to relax and rap with a pretty girl.”
“Rap parlor” was common parlance in the latter part of the 20th century to describe an establishment in which adults discussed and sometimes engaged in sexual activity. Several states and municipalities across the country defined the term “rap parlor” legally, as well, with varying definitions, generally including some reference to illicit sexual activity occurring there.
A little over a year after this original 1975 Tribune story, an advertisement appeared in the La Crosse Tribune for such illicit services at a place called “Ronda’s Rap,” located at 219 Pearl St.—again the same location as VIP from the news report in 1975 and the place Kind now owns.
“6 Lovely Ladies to converse with,” the ad, published in the newspaper on June 25, 1976, read. “Free adult movies. Bring your reading material or select from ours. $5 off with this ad. Open 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.”
Sometime in the next few years, per subsequent local news reports, the people operating the parlor at 219 Pearl St. changed again and by 1979 the then-operators faced criminal charges over prostitution concerns. A March 30, 1979, article in the La Crosse Tribune was headlined: “Judge releases testimony of 2 prostitutes.”
In the report, the staff of the local newspaper reveal that Circuit Court Judge Dennis Montabon—after protests from the local newspaper itself—“has made transcripts of secret testimony of two prostitutes available to the public.”
The staff report from the newspaper continued:
Despite having closed his courtroom Wednesday so the prostitutes could testify free from embarrassment, Montabon in a Thursday letter to the Tribune said the transcripts were always available—even before he received the Tribune’s letter. The two women, who admitted they were prostitutes, were witnesses against Joseph J. Kochen, 50, and Gerald H. Saliterman, 31, both charged with keeping a house of prostitution at the former Carol’s Sauna, 901 La Crosse St. and Ronda’s Rap (now VIP), 219 Pearl St. The two men were bound over for trial.
The report indicates that the judge had granted a “joint request” from assistant La Crosse County district attorney Robert Wells Jr. and defense lawyer Jack McManus “to allow Ann Wolf and Connie Salin, addresses unknown, to testify in secret.”
The report continued later by specifically citing the transcript testimonies of the two women who said they were prostitutes—both of whom worked at the 219 Pearl St. location.
The Tribune report said:
The transcript the Tribune obtained today shows that Ms. Wolf was employed at Carol’s and Ronda’s from March to August 1977, and during the same time Ms. Salin worked at Ronda’s. The two women, who were granted immunity from prosecution, said they had engaged in sexual acts for money at the massage parlors.
Later that year, on August 8, 1979, a report in the La Crosse Tribune revealed, both Kochen and Saliterman—who were co-owners of both Carol’s and Ronda’s—pled no contest but were convicted on May 3. A woman, Karen Martin of Minneapolis, Minnesota, was also convicted alongside them. Kochen and Saliterman were sentenced to jail time, probation, and fines, while Martin was sentenced to probation and fines.
The August 8, 1979, local newspaper report opened:
All three persons convicted in May of prostitution-related charges received probation today in La Crosse County Circuit Court Branch 3. But two of them—Joseph Kochen Sr., 50, and Gerald H. Saliterman, 31, both of La Crescent, Minn., are set to serve time in the La Crosse County jail. The third, Karen Martin, Minneapolis, was given 18 months probation for soliciting females for prostitution and was fined $559. Kochen was given four years probation, with the first six months served in jail, and a $385 fine. Saliterman was given three years probation for being a party to keeping a house of prostitution. The first 30 days are to be served in jail and he was fined $2,759. The three were convicted May 3 after pleading no contest. Saliterman and Kochen were massage parlor co-owners of the former Carol’s Sauna, 801 La Crosse St., and Ronda’s Rap (now VIP), 219 Pearl St. Miss Martin operated Ronda’s Rap. Kochen and Saliterman had pleaded to one count of keeping a house of prostitution. Another count was dismissed, but was to be considered in sentencing. Both faced $10,000 fines and five years in jail. A charge of keeping a house of prostitution was dismissed against Miss Martin. But she pleaded guilty to soliciting. She faced a maximum penalty of $1,000 fine and five years imprisonment.
A little over a year after that, the new operators of 219 Pearl St.—which changed from Ronda’s Rap to VIP—were also charged with prostitution-related charges, this time involving a minor girl.
“Suspect removal try leads to arrests,” was the headline in the La Crosse Tribune on Aug. 26, 1980:
A La Crosse man accused of operating a house of prostitution today was charged with attempting to get a 15-year-old prostitution suspect out of the city. Noel Scott, 39, of 219 1/2 Pearl St. posted a $10,000 cash bond for his appearance today in La Crosse County Circuit Court before Judge Peter Pappas. Scott was one of several persons arrested Friday during a police and state Department of Justice raid on VIP Rap, 219 Pearl St., and Lolita’s Massage, 316 S. Fourth St. According to the complaint, Scott asked a Milwaukee man, James Toliver, 25, to come to La Crosse and paid him $200 to get the girl out of the city. Toliver impersonated a Milwaukee police officer, according to the complaint. Toliver made his initial appearance in Circuit Court on a charge of impersonating a police officer and of criminal damage to property. The complaint said he ignited his mattress while he was in jail. The complaint against Toliver said he approached the group home where the 15-year-old is being detained, told the house parent, Valerie Allen, he was a Milwaukee police officer and wanted to see the girl. He flashed a silver badge, according to the complaint, but Ms. Allen asked instead for a police identification card bearing his picture. He then went to the county jail, where he asked to see the girl.
The report that day also includes more information about the charges against the operators of VIP Rap at 219 Pearl St. Under the sub-headline “Two face charges,” the local newspaper revealed that “two persons connected with VIP Rap Parlor, 219 Pearl St., face charges dealing with prostitution and minors.”
The La Crosse Tribune wrote:
According to police reports, Marilyn Scott, 37, and Noel Scott, 39, both of 219 1/2 Pearl St., were arrested Monday at 5:40 p.m. According to the district attorney’s office, Ms. Scott has been charge with intentionally soliciting a person under the age of 18 years to practice prostitution and Scott has been charged with keeping a place of prostitution and attempted interference with the custody of a child.
On March 12, 1981, a followup report in the La Crosse Tribune on the Scotts revealed that Noel Scott was sentenced to four years in Waupun State Prison after being convicted on charges of “operating a house of prostitution and trying to interfere with he custody of a minor.”
His wife Marilyn, who the report noted, “pleaded guilty to operating a house of prostitution at VIP Rap Parlor” was put on “probation for three years with no jail sentence.” The judge stayed a two-year prison sentence for her. The report said that Noel Scott at trial “claimed he did not know the juvenile’s age,” but quotes assistant district attorney Robert Wells as saying “ignorance of a child’s age is no defense.”
A Sept. 4, 1980, report in the newspaper indicated that Toliver had flipped on the Scotts in exchange for charges against him for impersonating a police officer getting dropped. He was, however, sentenced to time served–12 days–in jail on the property destruction charges for having set his mattress in jail ablaze.
A subsequent report on Oct. 21, 1984, in the La Crosse Tribune, indicated that new management at the facility attempted to take a new direction.
Under the headline, “From Massage Parlor to Maternity Shop,” the La Crosse Tribune’s Gery Parlin wrote that the “clientele at 219 Pearl St. is bound to change drastically now that Pamela Pappas is back in charge.” The report details how the new operator of that location had turned the massage parlor into a maternity shop, and the lengths to which she went to do it. Parlin wrote:
Back in the old days, 219 was the address of VIP Rap, a massage parlor. VIP’s operators pleaded guilty to operating a house of prostitution in 1980. But VIP is gone now and there is nothing left in the building to indicate that it was ever there. Since July, workers have been busy ripping out walls and cleaning up reminders that the building once housed a massage parlor with a shady reputation. A lot more than old walls, dirty magazines and nudes done in velvet were removed from the building. Pappas has changed the entire atmosphere of the pace for her maternity shop, Me and My Mom. Gone are the cubby holes and partitions. Gone is the dark interior. Pappas and her workers gutted the insides and practically started from scratch in the 117-year-old building.
At the end of the story, which continues detailing massive renovations that Pappas implemented, the newspaper report concluded: “And by the time she’s through, Pappas may have difficult time convincing anybody that 219 Pearl St. ever housed anything but a maternity shop.”
But this location did not remain a maternity shop forever. By the spring of 2018—and perhaps far sooner, at this time it is unclear—this location was again a massage parlor and had ditched the maternity store shift to revert back to its old ways.
The current business operating at the location, Asian Sunny Massage—per reports from Fox News—advertised on a series of websites known to law enforcement for illicit advertising. The spa changed names, as before it was Asian Sunny Massage it was previously “Impression Spa,” according to the Fox News report.
This particular business has not been accused by law enforcement of wrongdoing, but given the history of ads on illicit websites and concerns with human trafficking that abound across America, after those initial reports Kind’s GOP challenger, retired Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden, called for a full and thorough law enforcement investigation into the matter. In response, Kind turned to the same local newspaper that published all of the above stories about this address back in the 1970s and 1980s–the La Crosse Tribune–to baselessly accuse Van Orden of being racist.
Kind said in part in his statement:
This is a baseless smear rooted in racism and insinuations. Tawni and I have never received any complaint from the community or police about this small business. Because of Derrick Van Orden and his allies pushing lies, local police are increasing patrols to ensure the safety of this Asian-owned small business.
Kind’s quote claiming that it was racism motivating Van Orden’s questions about this came in response to a statement Van Orden released after the original Fox News report on this matter.
Van Orden said in an April 28 statement:
Today’s report is incredibly disturbing and opens the door to many more questions that need to be answered. I fully support law enforcement and encourage them to investigate this business to uncover any potential illegal activity. This industry has been proven to be a component of human sex trafficking, the scourge of the 21st century and modern day slavery. It is all of our duties as Americans to help stop these heinous crimes from taking place here in our state and nation.
Interestingly, per an official congressional biography, Kind was a prosecutor in the Wisconsin state attorney’s La Crosse office as early as in 1992—meaning when he purchased this property in 1993, he was working for the state attorney’s office.
In a radio interview where he attacked Van Orden for raising questions about what is happening at Asian Sunny Massage, Kind said that the location he owns does have a history of a variety of different massage parlor businesses operating there.
Kind said in the April 29 interview with WIZM News Talk in La Crosse:
We had a chiropractor who did massages there, and previous to that there was another massage therapist that occupied that space for a while too. So there’s nothing new here, but what is new? What is new is Derrick Van Orden is running against me and he’s gotten his allies to plant this story and do this political hit.
Kind’s congressional office has not replied to multiple requests for comment in response to these revelations that his property was previously confirmed, before he owned it, to be a “house of prostitution” by law enforcement and local courts. His communications director, Sarah Abel, who severely mishandled her office’s response to a previous Breitbart News investigation into Kind’s extravagant travel on the dime of special interests, did not show up to work on Monday per an out-of-office email response.
“Thanks for reaching out! I’m currently away from my computer and will be taking a break from email while I’m offline,” Abel said in response to questions for this story. “I’ll respond to all my messages as soon as I’m back in the office on May 19.”
Her email recommended forwarding questions to Kind’s congressional office press secretary, Carter MacLeod. MacLeod did not answer a set of detailed questions from Breitbart News, and it remains to be seen if Abel will respond to questions on this matter later this week when she decides to return to work.