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Seven months after law enforcement carried out raids in Springfield, no felony charges have been filed. Seven months after law enforcement officers raided more than a dozen Springfield massage parlors looking for evidence of sex trafficking, no one has been charged locally with any felony crime. Officials involved in the case and experts in human trafficking say these complex investigations take time. Still, attorneys representing some of the 13 Springfield massage parlors targeted in the July 20 raids say officials have exaggerated the case and there is little evidence these businesses were forcing women into commercial sex acts. The specifics of the state's case could soon be revealed. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Hawley told the News-Leader there will be "further action in days to come." The investigation, Hawley's people say, is still "very active." "We served warrants on 18 locations and the next day went to court to shut down 13 businesses that were acting as fronts for trafficking," Hawley's spokeswoman Loree Anne Paradise said. "We were able to free multiple women as a result of the raid. All of them have since been relocated to safe locales and resourced to help them go forward with their lives. The raid uncovered an organized crime ring working in Missouri and other states." At least some of the targeted Springfield massage parlors appeared to be in business Friday afternoon. A Missouri State Highway Patrol investigator walking into Shui Massage and Spa at 520 W. (Photo: Nathan Papes/News-Leader) Contacted by the News-Leader, multiple defense attorneys challenged some of the state's claims. "My personal opinion is they shot the moon with this case," said Curtis Garner, a Springfield attorney representing one of the massage parlors. Garner acknowledged he has not seen all of the state's evidence, but he was dubious that an organized crime syndicate was operating in the city for years. Garner said he thought the state had "substantially" exaggerated what was happening at these businesses. The state, meanwhile, defended the merits of what Hawley's office called the largest anti-trafficking raid in Missouri history. Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson said the case is still being worked by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Springfield Police Department and has not yet been submitted to prosecutors for possible charges. Patterson said he could not comment on the specifics of the massage parlor case, but he acknowledged trafficking cases often take a long time to investigate because traffickers go to great lengths to keep their operations hidden. "While I am prohibited from commenting on the facts of an ongoing investigation, it would be a mistake to minimize what was going on without knowing all of the facts," Patterson said. Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson (Photo: Andrew Jansen/News-Leader) A day after the raids in Springfield, the state charged nine people with operating a massage business without the proper state license, a misdemeanor. As of Friday, those were the only Missouri criminal charges filed in this case. Some more serious charges have been filed in Louisiana as part of the investigation. When Hawley came to Springfield in July to announce the massage parlor raids, he stood in a strip mall parking lot and promised to hunt down and prosecute human traffickers in Missouri.
Some residents were shocked to learn there was a suspected sex trafficking ring in Springfield, while others felt affirmed in their belief that human trafficking was a major problem in the Ozarks. Springfield's police chief has consistently said — including days after the raids — he does not think there's a sophisticated human trafficking ring operating in the city. Attorney's Office located in Springfield has not charged anyone with human trafficking in at least the past eight years. While there are conflicting views about the prevalence of human trafficking in Springfield, Hawley has made the crime — a modern form of slavery in which victims are sold into labor or the sex trade — a statewide focus during his time in office. He helped establish an anti-human trafficking task force and launch an investigation into Backpage.com, a website that generates millions of dollars in revenue by hosting sex-related ads. Attorney General Josh Hawley (Photo: Nathan Papes/News-Leader) When it comes to Springfield massage parlors, however, one lawyer involved in the case said Hawley missed the mark. The lawyer spoke with the News-Leader on the condition of anonymity for fear the government would retaliate against his client.
"I think this was all about headlines for these guys and they had very little in the way of evidence," the lawyer said.