A Cook County judge’s friendship with the owner of a Brookfield massage parlor raided for offering illicit sex acts raises concerns about possible violations of ethics rules requiring judges to “avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” Injustice Watch has found.
Associate Judge Gregory P. Vazquez, who has been on the bench since 2008 and was most recently assigned to hear felony cases in the Maywood courthouse, appeared on two separate videos last year with the owner of Sunnie Massage parlor — including during a June 30 police raid.
The judge briefly appears on police body camera footage from the raid, arriving at the massage parlor with Qingling Chi, who later paid fines related to sex work at the parlor.
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On the video, officers from the Brookfield Police Department and Cook County Sheriff’s Police arrive at the parlor shortly after an undercover officer dealt with Chi and her employee to purchase a sex act, records show.
As the raid begins, her employee tells officers on video that Chi stepped out to buy lunch. Several minutes later, Chi and Vazquez enter the parlor, and Vazquez can be heard explaining to the officers he is a “friend” of Chi and had just given her a ride to the business. The officers at the scene can be heard recognizing Vazquez as “a judge.”
On July 18, Vazquez appeared again with Chi, this time outside Brookfield Village Hall, on the day she and her employee appeared with their attorney to resolve the administrative tickets issued by Brookfield police during the raid. Security footage from the parking lot shows Chi, her employee, and an unidentified man getting in and out of the judge’s car.
Both videos were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
In a brief telephone conversation with Injustice Watch, Vazquez at first denied knowledge of Sunnie Massage. After being asked about the security footage, he said he played no role in Chi’s case other than referring her to an attorney and giving her a ride.
“She’s a friend of mine,” Vazquez said. “And there is no massage parlor; she doesn’t work there, she doesn’t own it, and there is no longer anything of that nature.
“When she called me, I referred her to a lawyer. She had no way of getting there, so I said I’ll take you, and that was it. I don’t think I went inside, I just stayed in the car and waited. It was a hot day.”
Massage businesses raided by police for alleged sex work have operated at 9100 Ogden Ave. under various names for years, records show. Sunnie Massage, the most recent massage business to operate at the address, shut down following the latest case. Chi is listed as the agent for a spa company at that address on state records and acknowledged to officers during the raid that she is the owner.
On the Brookfield Village Hall parking lot security tape from July 18, Vazquez can be seen talking with Chi and her lawyer outside the building. Vazquez also goes inside the village hall for about a minute before coming back outside.
Vazquez told Injustice Watch the attorney he suggested to Chi was Kevin P. Wendorf, who records show has represented massage parlor owners and workers in three other Chicago area municipalities since 2015. State records also list Wendorf as a corporate secretary in a Chicago company providing spa and massage services.
Last September, Wendorf was convicted of misdemeanor battery in DuPage County, after he was accused by a female client of sexual assault in his office in 2017, records show. Wendorf was investigated by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, the state licensing body for lawyers. The ARDC has recommended the Illinois Supreme Court censure him, records show.
Wendorf did not return several emails and phone calls asking to interview him and Chi.
On the village hall surveillance video, Vazquez and Wendorf can be seen walking and talking together around the time of Chi and her employee’s administrative hearing.
During his brief interview with Injustice Watch, Vazquez initially denied having been to Sunnie Massage, but then he acknowledged he might have gone there after being asked about a positive online review of the massage parlor written under his name on Google.
“I remember going somewhere, but I don’t know if that was the name of the place,” Vazquez told Injustice Watch.
A Google review posted early last year by a user with the name “Gregory6022 Vazquez” said he began going to the massage parlor once per week to have an unspecified injury treated following a disappointing experience with physical therapy.
“I play a lot of guitar 4 hours a day,” the review reads. “In the past I have never stretched before playing so I had paid the price through excessive tightness. I now go here regularly to prevent the tightness and pain from coming back because I know my stretching on my own is of minimal benefit because I can not do it well on my own.”
Asked about the review, Vazquez said he could not remember writing it.
“I don’t know that that was me,” he told Injustice Watch. “Because in my family, I have four boys, one girl, and we all use the same computer, and two of us have had hand injuries from playing guitar.”
Injustice Watch also found another review on Yelp from April 2022 posted by a user with the name “Gregory V.”
“I had some serious shoulder and arm tightness. I have gone there regularly. Once a week. It’s done me more good than the physical therapy I had at the Ortho Clinic. Looks like I will not be needing surgery,” Gregory V. wrote.
Vazquez declined to elaborate on his relationship with Chi and the massage parlor.
Judges who retire avoid discipline
The day after his brief April 6 interview with Injustice Watch, Vazquez filed paperwork to retire.
According to the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, Vazquez’s retirement takes effect July 3. Vazquez told Injustice Watch in a text message that April 20 was his last day on the bench before taking medical leave ahead of his retirement.
Vazquez has previously been featured in Injustice Watch reports for his disproportionate sentencing of Cook County defendants to wear a little-known alcohol-monitoring device known as SCRAM.
Injustice Watch spoke with several judicial ethics experts — all of whom spoke only on background — who said it’s possible the judge might have a problem, but they all said they didn’t have enough facts to draw definitive conclusions. There are two rules in Illinois’ Code of Judicial Conduct that could come into play in light of Vazquez’s actions.
First, judges are required to “avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” and second, they are prohibited from using the prestige of their offices to influence a case. Even if the judge was not at the village hall to interfere with the case, experts agreed his presence at the village hall could be interpreted to give an appearance of impropriety, if others could recognize him as a judge and perceive him to be there to advocate on someone’s behalf. The appearance of misuse of prestige is as bad as the actual misuse of prestige, the experts explained.
Steven Lubet, a professor emeritus at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law who has witten extensively on judicial ethics, told Injustice Watch that even though the judge’s apparent association with people allegedly engaged in unlawful sex work may raise eyebrows, one shouldn’t assume misconduct on his part.
“Not everything incongruous is necessarily unethical if there was no attempt to exploit his office to influence the outcome of the case,” Lubet said.
Neither the Brookfield police officers who conducted the massage parlor sting nor the attorney contracted to represent the village as a prosecutor in administrative matters responded to Injustice Watch’s requests for comment. The administrative hearing officer who heard the matter, John Fioti, said he did not see Vazquez in the hearing room as he handled the case.
“Unequivocally: Nobody contacted me about that case, nobody,” Fioti said.
No one was arrested or criminally charged during the police raid of Sunnie Massage. Municipal law enforcement authorities can choose to write tickets for violations of local ordinances as an alternative to charging and prosecuting low-level offenses in criminal court.
Records show Chi and her employee were found liable and paid $5,500 in fines to the village of Brookfield on citations for providing massage services in rooms without a required viewing window, having unsanitary conditions, keeping a “house of ill fame,” and allowing employees to perform sex acts.
After the raid, Brookfield police also cited the building owner, Elizabeth McCormick, with an administrative violation for allowing sex work on the property. Village records show she was also found liable and paid a $150 fine. She did not appear with Vazquez, Wendorf, and the women from the massage parlor on the video.
McCormick also did not return several messages seeking comment, but she told police their decision to cite her was unfair because the village allowed the massage parlor to operate.
Once Vazquez concludes his medical leave and officially retires, he will no longer be under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, a state body tasked with investigating possible unethical conduct by judges.
In recent years, Injustice Watch has reported on three other judges retiring under a cloud of ethical questions, thereby slipping away from investigation and censure for alleged misconduct. In Illinois, the Judicial Inquiry Board and the Supreme Court lose authority to investigate or discipline judges after they retire. According to a report published by the National Center for State Courts, judges can still be disciplined after they retire in at least 24 other states.
The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, however, would remain in a position to evaluate Vazquez’s conduct and make recommendations on the status of his bar license.