Six arrests, indictments made in alleged illicit massage parlor operation
RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - Six women involved in conspiracy, bribery, and the operation of illegal massage parlors that allegedly provided sexual services have been arrested and charged after a year long undercover investigation.
Five women, Ok Hwa Lee, Shanyu Song, OgBun Park, XueJin Bai and Ming Ji Cao, allegedly conspired to pay bribes to an undercover agent posing as a corrupt law enforcement officer to provide protection for the illegal massage parlors in Wilmington and Cary.
Additional separate charges were brought against a sixth individual, Xiang Yue Jin, for allegedly bribing an undercover agent to provide protection for her parlors from law enforcement scrutiny.
The five Wilmington massage parlors named in court documents where sexual services were offered include the VIP Spa and King Spa, both on Market Street, the Comfort Asian Massage on South College Road, Yucca Treatment Spa on Shipyard Boulevard, and Lucky Foot and Body Massage on Wrightsville Avenue.
The criminal complaint notes the investigation was centered around an undercover agent playing the role of a corrupt police officer.
The documents confirm each business owner knew sexual services were being provided in their respective spas. The complaint also notes that the business owners targeted knew they were talking to a sworn federal agent wearing a badge and a gun, but still paid him thousands in cash bribes to keep local law enforcement off their path.
The operation also gathered plenty of information about how these Wilmington businesses paid to have the spas registered under another person’s name to avoid scrutiny and how they got women to staff the spas.
One spa owner told the agent she would “call someone” to get girls down to North Carolina from New York. Another spa owner said they put ads in Chinese or Korean newspapers, and most of the workers came from New York.
Leaders at A Safe Place, a group that helps trafficking victims, says it’s a story they hear often. Experts say it’s not uncommon to hear about women coming from overseas that land in Flushing, New York excited for a better life, before they become a victim of sex or labor trafficking.
“They’re being promised things. Some think they’re actually going to a massage school and be trained to be a massage therapist,” said Dawn Ferrer, program director of a Safe Place. “They think they’re headed to a better life with good money in the United States, good opportunities, and then they get in the situation, they come through Flushing New York and there’s a network where they’re spread out across the country.”
A Safe Place says these kinds of crimes are hidden in plain sight most of the time and everyone in this community should report anything suspicious to law enforcement of the nonprofit’s anonymous helpline (855) 723-7529.
The Wilmington Police Department and the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office assisted the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies in the investigation.
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