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According to the warrants, the investigation started in 2014 after the highway patrol was tipped off to suspicious behavior at Palm Spa, which is now located at 2902 S. The warrants go on to detail what investigators believed to be a somewhat interconnected operation involving a dozen more Asian massage parlors throughout the city with advertisements on Backpage.com featuring women in revealing clothing, customers admitting to law enforcement they received hand jobs or masturbated on massage tables, employees being shuttled from homes to businesses and stains "consistent with semen" found at several businesses. The most compelling evidence pointing toward sex trafficking in the warrants obtained by the News-Leader was two 2017 interviews conducted with employees leaving Relax Spa at 2022 S. The women allegedly told a highway patrol investigator they came to Springfield to work as masseuses, but when they got here, they were told they had to live at the massage parlor and could not leave.

When the women were asked if they were forced to perform sex acts on patrons, they did not answer, according to the warrant. Springfield TV station KY3 reported in July that "about 10 alleged victims" had been rescued following the massage parlor raids. Patterson, the prosecutor, told the News-Leader some people were treated as victims and others as suspects, but it would be premature to categorize anyone in that way. Martina Vandenberg, president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington, D.C., said trafficking cases are difficult and time-consuming to investigate. Vandenberg said getting cooperation from victims is one of the biggest challenges for law enforcement since the victims are often taught to fear police and that their family members abroad will be harmed if they cooperate. "How prosecutors and law enforcement treat victims after they escape their situation determines whether or not that victim feels sufficiently safe, sufficiently protected to cooperate at all," Vandenberg said. Vandenberg said human trafficking cases are often so complex that prosecutors can't meet the burden of proof and end up charging the suspects with lesser crimes.

While prosecutors in Greene County have not charged any massage parlor owners with sex trafficking, two massage parlor operators in Louisiana were charged with human trafficking this summer as part of the broader multi-state investigation. The suspects, Bing Bing Li and Linan Tian, are also named in Springfield warrants as being operators of Palm Spa on Campbell Avenue. Vandenberg said one thing to watch in human trafficking cases is the money. She said victims are entitled to financial restitution in human trafficking cases, but "often it's the exception, not the rule." Days after the raids in Springfield, authorities seized more than $130,000 from 10 people who they say were engaged in criminal activity, according to court documents. Judge extends restraining order against Asian massage parlors. (KY3) - A Greene County judge held a hearing on Friday afternoon for five of the 16 people and businesses in Springfield that are charged with engaging in prostitution and human trafficking. The judge extended a temporary restraining order for 10 more days; that order prohibits the businesses and individuals from engaging in illegal activity. Three of the five suspects had attorneys representing them and two of them did not. Law enforcement officers only served a summons to appear in court for these five defendants. They’ve been unsuccessful in serving the charges on nine more defendants, and they haven't tried yet to serve two others. Hongbo Qi, Hui Otis and Phoenix Oriental Massage were represented in the hearing by attorneys. Daquiong Wang and Mei Xiang Cui were in court but didn't have attorneys. Qi is the registered agent for Phoenix Oriental Massage. Otis is listed in a charging document as an owner of Angel Massage. Wang is listed as "an owner, officer, agent, or employee of Golden Massage." Cui is listed as "an owner, officer, agent, or employee of Great Spa." The civil charges are filed against 11 people and five businesses. The businesses are Phoenix Oriental Massage and Phoenix Magic Massage, both listed at 1261 E. Campbell Ave.; Relax Massage, or Relax Spa, 2022 S. Some of the charged people are listed as living at one of those businesses. Some of the people are charged with operating businesses that are not charged themselves, possibly because those businesses are not officially registered with the Missouri Secretary of State's Office. Battlefield Road; Peace Massage, also known as Magic Spa, 3029 E. [You can read the charging document here; it's attached in the upper right margin on the website or at the bottom on the app.] The attorney for Phoenix Oriental Massage filed a motion to dismiss the charges, which the judge denied. The defense attorney argued the business was sold more than 18 months ago, and his client's only tie to it is a fictitious name. Prosecutors argued the allegations of prostitution activity go back more than 18 months. Prosecutors asked for a renewal of the temporary restraining order against the six massage parlors where they believe prostitution was happening on an ongoing basis. The judge granted that extension, which prohibits the businesses from engaging in illegal sexual activity, until Aug. 7, when another hearing in the civil case is scheduled.

The attorney for Angel Massage claims his client is being lumped in with all the others but has no connection. He says the woman who testified at a previous hearing about her one-time sexual contact with a cutomer does not even work at Angel Massage. He said his client, Otis, is a licensed massage therapist who worked alone. A search warrant affidavit made public on Friday lists why Palm Massage was raided and what items were seized.

It says officers seized electronics, credit card receipts, and stains on bed covers and walls as evidence. [You can read that affidavit here; it's attached in the upper right margin on the website and at the bottom on the app.] State investigators spent months working on this case before serving search warrants at 13 spas last week. The attorney general says they found evidence of young women living in the businesses.


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