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. Two other defense attorneys involved in the case told the News-Leader they believe their clients were erroneously lumped in with a few bad actors in the city simply because they operated Asian massage parlors. The News-Leader has obtained dozens of pages of search warrant documents that describe some of the state's evidence. 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.