Massage Parlors Shut Down After Prostitution Sting

Discussion in 'Chicago / Illinois' started by Jack_Maehoffer, Mar 2, 2005.

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  1. Jack_Maehoffer


    3 more charged in alleged spa sex ring

    By CORINA CURRY, Rockford Register Star

    ROCKFORD -- Three more people have been charged in connection with what officials say was an underground sex ring run out of seven Asian health spas in Rockford from 1998 until the businesses were raided in February.

    Federal and local officials brought racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy charges against 10 spa owners and operators after a February raid. Last month, similar charges were filed against three others: Charles Liu, 51, Joana So Bang, 37, and Juliane Bang, no age given.

    Liu appeared in Rockford's federal courthouse Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to the charges and agreed to follow bond conditions so he could remain out of jail pending trial. Bond was set at $10,000.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Iasparro, who is prosecuting the cases for the Justice Department, said he couldn't comment on whether more defendants will get pulled into the case or whether more charges will be filed against the 13 already named men and women.

    Of those, 11 have been to court, including Mi Ran Park, 45, who was a fugitive at the time of the raid but was arrested March 23. Another defendant, Juliane Bang, is expected to turn herself in Monday. Oknyon Moser, whose last known address was in Ohio -- remains a fugitive.

    The lengthy investigation shut down seven Rockford spas -- Pine Tree Spa, 4315 E. State St.; Paradise Health Spa, 278 N. Phelps Ave.; Rainbow Health Spa, 4734 E. State St.; Tokyo Oriental Spa, 1538 Broadway; Royal Health Spa, 4103 S. Main St.; Osaka Spa, 4215 E. State St.; and Sakura Spa, 4415 Harrison Ave.

    The spas, which were licensed to give therapeutic massages, allegedly were fronts for prostitution. Some officials believe female illegal immigrants were forced to live and work at the spas, at which men would come and go at all hours, paying $60 to $140 for various sex acts.

    Evidence in the 13 cases includes statements from confidential sources, secretly taped conversations, credit-card receipts, phone records, bank account information and items collected by rifling through trash cans and Dumpsters.

    Local officials have speculated whether federal authorities will go after the spa owners and operators on charges relating to human trafficking. None has been filed.

    The men and women allegedly used telephone lines to transmit credit and debit card payments for sex at the massage parlors.

    Each charge carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
  2. BoredInCT


    It is hard to believe that there are guys who would use a credit card at an AMP... but there it is.

    Just amazing...
  3. Jack_Maehoffer


    Credit-card trail leads way to federal counts

    The business transactions enabled several agencies to get involved.

    By CORINA CURRY, Rockford Register Star

    ROCKFORD -- Rockford's underground Asian sex industry, which thrived for years under the guise of legitimate massage businesses, ended a week ago, thanks in part to a device that many of us use every day -- a credit card machine.

    The well-known, alleged fronts for prostitution, along some of Rockford's busiest thoroughfares, were taking credit and debit card payments from some of their customers, using phone lines to transmit payment information, opening the door to federal charges.

    That simple, seemingly innocuous, business move turned a case of repeated ordinance violations that could do little to permanently close the well-guarded houses of ill-repute into a full-fledged takedown targeting 10 owner-operators of five so-called "health spas." Each of the 10 was charged with criminal conspiracy and racketeering, punishable by up to five years in prison.

    It took two years and a cooperative effort involving hundreds of government officials and law-enforcement officers representing about a dozen city, state and federal agencies -- from Rockford's zoning department and the community services unit of the Rockford Police Department to the FBI, IRS and Bureau of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

    There were building inspections and surveillance. There was a whistle-blower and a federal agent posing as a potential investor. Investigators spent months rifling through garbage, bank records and receipts of credit-card transactions to build the case.

    That, officials say, is what it took to close the spas.

    And that is probably what it will take again if they're allowed to reopen or if others take their place. Local authorities are working to prevent the current spas from reopening and hoping that last Sunday's raid will deter others from setting up shop in the months and years to come, but nothing is a done deal.

    "By doing this, we're saying, 'We will not tolerate this in this city,'" said Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Cacciapaglia, who filed temporary restraining orders in state court last week asking that the federal defendants and their employees be banned from their former places of business.

    Her next step will be working with landlords to get the spa owners evicted for running suspected fronts for prostitution and for using the commercially zoned businesses for residential purposes.

    "If they aren't cooperative, then they need to know that we will do everything in our power to take away their property," Cacciapaglia said. "They are no longer going to be able to rent to these businesses and turn a blind eye to what's going on. Landlords need to know that we will be holding them responsible for allowing these types of spas to open and perpetrate crimes on the city of Rockford.

    "We're not going to stand for it."

    The challenge of going after front businesses is that they're legal on the surface and on paper, said Winnebago County State's Attorney Paul Logli.

    The illegal activity, in this case prostitution, is hidden behind closed doors and behind a certificate from the American Massage Therapy Association indicating that at least one of the employees is in good standing with the organization, as required by state law.

    Each of the five spas closed last Sunday had a certificate that permitted them to open in the Rockford area as legitimate massage therapy businesses.

    "The public has to understand the limitations of going after these places," Logli said. "Keep in mind, these situations occur behind closed doors between two people who put themselves there, who consent to it and will do everything they can to conceal it. That creates many, many law enforcement issues."

    Sending undercover officers into the spas to make individual prostitution arrests is out of the question, Logli said. Making it more difficult for massage therapists to open businesses may not be the answer, either, he added, since front businesses come in all shapes and forms.

    "The prostitution that goes on behind what appears to be legitimate fronts are a challenge all over the country," he said. "What today is a massage parlor, next year is a lingerie place, next year is escort services, and next year is a photography studio. ... These are legitimate businesses. You can't just shut them all down based on innuendo, rumor and speculation.

    "Look at what it came to in this case to bring about the serious charges -- the swiping of the credit card," Logli said. "We're lucky that the feds got involved, and that was probably because of some connection with organized crime from southeast Asia and these women."

    Each of the 10 federal defendants has been charged with conspiring to use interstate facilities, namely telephone lines transmitting credit-card information, to aid racketeering enterprises, namely prostitution.

    According to court documents, a confidential source developed over the course of the investigation told officers that some of the spas' customers paid by credit card. Their cards would be swiped two times in a short period of time, a practice called "stacking."

    This, the informant said, as reported in an affidavit, is how the spas hid their illegal prostitution business. Customers would pay "front money" for a massage or body shower and pay "back money" with a second transaction. The "back money" would be for sex.

    According to the affidavit, the informant's information was good and "double hits" were found in the company records of all five spas.

    Later this week, Cacciapaglia will go to court to keep the Paradise, Pine Tree, Osaka, Tokyo and Royal spas permanently closed. The Rainbow and Sakura, which were involved in the lengthy federal investigation, have shut down.
  4. Jack_Maehoffer


    Federal And Local Prostitution Sting
    23 News/Rockford
    Brad Broders

    Police cars spent Monday monitoring area suspected illegal sex shops. Seven are implicated in a state and federal prostitution bust.

    The sting is spread out across Rockford from South Main to East State Street. Two men and six women are in custody facing federal charges of aiding racketeering.

    Law enforcement spent nearly a year and a half investigating numerous Rockford massage parlors for their involvement. Investigators used credit card transactions and receipts to connect those being charged.

    They found clients used their credit cards in two swipes. First, in $40 and $60 amounts as front money, and then another charge for additional sexual services, called back money.

    Rockford police say the seven massage parlors are shut down on zoning violations. They're now working to shut down the parlors permanently.

    The eight people charged are detained pending their bail hearing later this week. While agents say the sting was both complicated and time consuming, they believe the joint efforts show that Rockford is serious about stopping both street and organized prostitution.

    "It took us a number of years to put this together. They are very difficult and complicated cases. We were successful here so hopefully the people that we're here will think, ‘let's find an easier Mark,’ “ Rockford Police Chief Steven Pugh said.

    Investigators say if found guilty, the massage parlor could face federal charges, which could mean a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.