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Spotlight on Lacey's spa
Owner says Illusion could reopen this week; ex-employee claims deputies, politician were clients

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com · 340-2438

Law enforcement and the Morgan County Health Department said they will monitor activities at Illusion Spa when it reopens at Lacey's Spring.

That follows accusations by a former spa employee and self-described former prostitute that a county politician and two deputies were patrons of the spa.

Spa owner Ann Mcelhaney said Monday afternoon she could be back in business as early as Wednesday. She also contradicted the former employee.

The business closed June 30 after fire destroyed its building, a singlewide mobile home on half an acre at 1138 U.S. 231. The spa moved into a doublewide Thursday.

Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett had a one-hour meeting in his office Monday morning with Laura Powers, the woman who worked at Illusion. Bartlett said his goal is to shut down illegal activity.

Also, Terry Napier, environmental supervisor with the Health Department, said Illusion's sewage disposal system has failed in the past.

"It's dry and nothing is leeching now," Napier said. "They're not under any type notice. We'll monitor them and see what happens."

Bartlett said he set up the meeting with Powers because she implicated deputies during a meeting July 24 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Lacey's Spring. Two Bethlehem members, Barry Dunlap and Cole Mahan, came with Powers, but Bartlett said neither they nor the media could attend the meeting because it was part of an investigation.

"We're not throwing stones at Sheriff Bartlett," Mahan said.

“We support Laura because we want this stopped in our community. We have seen her plight.”

Mahan said he, Dunlap and Powers met for almost two hours at Bethlehem on Wednesday, the day after she spoke, on how they could resolve the issue. Also at that meeting was Adam Suit of the Church of God of Prophecy in Huntsville, who drove Powers.

“We don’t wish any ill will on anyone,” Mahan said. “We just want this scourge shut down in our community. We hope this is the beginning of the end.”

As Powers left to meet with the sheriff, Dunlap read Scripture and Mahan prayed.

During the meeting, also attended by Lt. Howard Battles, the sheriff’s supervisor of investigations, Bartlett said Powers said she had seen deputies, a Morgan County politician and politicians from other counties at Illusion.

“When I pressed for names, she couldn’t give any, and descriptions she gave didn’t match anyone I knew,” he said. “She said the officers came five or six years ago. That was before I became sheriff.”

Morgan politician

Bartlett said Powers gave the name of the Morgan County politician. He said that would be a part of the investigation.

“My goal, if there’s anything illegal going on in there, is to shut it down even before they go in,” Bartlett said. “If they’re planning on running prostitution in that business, they need to pick a different county.”

He said that although Powers gave him information from past activities, any information is helpful.

But Mcelhaney said Powers is untruthful.

‘Hooked on drugs’

“She said she got hooked on drugs while working at Illusion. I fired her for bringing drugs into the spa,” Mcelhaney said. “Anybody who knows me knows that I am very anti-drugs. I won’t let anyone knowingly bring drugs in. And if anybody calls me and tells me that anyone, the public or an employee, is doing drugs on my property, they’re out of there.”

Mcelhaney said that, on a number of occasions, Powers asked her for a ride.

“I’d give her a ride to get her off the property,” Mcelhaney said. “She has asked for her job back recently. I told her no, and I will continue to tell her no because she has a problem.”

Mcelhaney said she will again offer hot-tub rentals and tanning beds in the spa, and that she will have both female and male attendants.

She bought the property Feb. 15, 2002, and Napier said workers installed the spa’s standard 1,000-gallon septic tank June 17, 2003.

“The system has failed, generating more waste water than it was designed to handle,” he said. “It failed within six months after it was installed. They’ve had the engineer back twice for repairs. They were having a problem recently, before the fire.”

Mcelhaney said Lee Y. Greene Sr. of Hartselle engineered the system improperly.

“Eddie Thompson of Hartselle installed it, and he did it exactly as Greene designed it,” she said.

“Basically, the Health Department is waiting for Lee Greene to come up with a new plan.”

Greene said, “We were contacted by Eddie to come up with a new design to expand the system just before the fire. When (the spa) burned, we figured that was it. We suspect we’re back on the project, but no one has called us yet.”

As for designing an improper system, Greene said, “I’ll talk to Mcelhaney about that.”

Mcelhaney said she hasn’t yet requested that Joe Wheeler return the power.

“If they change the dwelling, as Illusion’s has, Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp. oftentimes requires the owner to get an OK from us before they will reconnect,” Napier said. “If (Joe Wheeler) requires that statement of approval from us, we won’t be able to give it to them.”

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