3 Convicted In Prostitution Case At Bristol Borough Health Center

Posted: December 19, 1993

The Executive Fitness Health Center is a Bristol Borough business in the Plaza 13 Shopping Center.

Apparently it's not a place where you would go for a typical workout, though.

On Wednesday, a Bucks County jury identified the center as a house of prostitution.

And its days are numbered.

After a two-day trial and 105 minutes of deliberation, a panel of nine men and three women returned guilty verdicts against the center's owner and two employees.

Convicted on two counts of promoting prostitution and one count of conspiracy to commit prostitution was Frank DeStefanis, 48, of Bellmawr, N.J. The employees, Jessica Vanderberg, 22, and Beata Grama, 22, both of Philadelphia, were convicted on one count each of prostitution.

Judge Edward G. Biester Jr. delayed sentencing, pending the filing of post- trial motions. DeStefanis could receive a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine. Vanderberg and Grama could both get sentences of one year in jail and $2,500 fines.

All three defendants remained free on personal recognizance bail.

Bristol Detective Randy Morris said the convictions will enable borough authorities to close the center within a month, sending 1,250 club members elsewhere.

The center became the target of a six-month criminal investigation this year, after a patron tipped borough police. The undercover probe was handled by the borough and the Bucks County District Attorney's Office.

This is how the business operated, according to the prosecution:

Customers visited the center for a massage, at a typical charge of $60. During the massages, male customers were offered a "hand release" or genital manipulation by the female attendants, said Troy Leitzel, assistant district attorney.

"If you wanted it, you could get it," Leitzel said, adding that the term ''hand release" is well-known in the massage business. "This was going on here. It was happening."

Bensalem Police Officer Timothy Carroll testified that Vanderberg and Grama were willing to provide hand releases to him when he went to the center while working undercover.

Carroll refused.

Morrisville Police Officer Libby Haggar testified that she went undercover in an attempt to gain employment as a masseuse. She said DeStefanis implied she could earn better tips by offering the hand releases.

The defense argued that the prosecution did not have any evidence that something other than massages was being sold.

"I think you could hardly call that prostitution," said Francis Recchuiti, attorney for DeStefanis. "Talk is cheap."

In his closing remarks, Recchuiti told the jury that the undercover officers were not solicited for illicit sex acts at Executive Fitness.

"It's clear that (Carroll) didn't go in there to get a massage, he went in there to try and develop something," said Recchuiti. Carroll "must have paid the $60 for the massage, because he sure as heck didn't get the sex.

"At no time did these girls take off their clothes," he said.

In an interview after the trial, Leitzel said that "police don't have to be touched. It's enough that it was offered."

David Knight, attorney for Vanderberg and Grama, described his clients as ''young ladies who were doing absolutely legitimate rub-downs."

Reflecting on the verdicts, Recchuiti said, "The jury chose to believe it was solicitation."

Detective Morris said that to his knowledge massages were still being offered at Executive Fitness. The police investigation has been over since July 27, after the arrests of DeStefanis, Vanderberg and Grama.

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