It all began with a routine check by a Florida Department of Health Inspector. During an inspection of a day spa, the employee noticed suitcases, slept-in massage tables and provocatively dressed women in the parlor of the business.
The inspector suspected the women working at the establishment were involved in criminal sexual behavior and could possibly be victims of human trafficking.
When local law enforcement were alerted to the facts regarding the inspection of the spa, they began a convert operation to determine the nature of the services provided and also try to verify if the women were being held against their will.
For two weeks, detectives observed a steady stream of customers, mostly men, coming in and out of the parlor. They began to stop some of the men and question them. Law enforcement began to realize there was definitely prostitution going on but feared human trafficking was also involved.
They assigned up to ten detectives to the case. It was noted that all of the women working were Asian and they never left the spa alone but were shuttled in expensive cars to other spas. Some would arrive at the locations and not leave for weeks at a time.
Officials in another Florida county were alerted to the operation and they began to focus on a storefront spa located in a strip mall that featured a grocery store and a pizza place.
Homeland Security, who provided interpreters and money, assisted them in their investigations. Women working at these facilities basically speak no English and understand even less.
Long before law enforcement was called to the locations, locals were suspicious of activity at the spas.
Residents of the area reported that men visited the spas daily with cash in hand. They were greeted in the parking lot by a woman and ushered quickly to a door around back. The men would emerge 30-45 minutes later. This repetition would occur around 20 times a day.
During their investigation into what type of business was being conducted at the spas, authorities received a warrant to install surveillance cameras inside the spas. They set up monitors in a conference room at police headquarters and monitored the activity. They focused solely on male clients as officers say they are more likely to engage in prostitution.
After witnessing an illegal act, detectives would alert the agents outside the spa and they would follow the individual and try to identify the suspect.
This operation conducted by local Florida authorities might not have made national news if they had not snared a high profile client in their investigation.
In February, 77-year old New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft was charged with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution. Authorities say Kraft was videotaped twice receiving sexual services from a woman working in a spa in Jupiter, Florida.
Kraft was one of 25 people charged in the sting. The men ranged in age from 19-84.
Human trafficking is a $150 billion dollar industry. Sexual exploitation and sex trafficking are horrible crimes.
Authorities in Florida say they intend to show these spas and parlors are part of a human-trafficking ring. They say many of the women working at the locations were brought here under false pretenses and forced to service as many as 20 men a day.
They were locked inside these businesses and beds were constructed from planks with mattresses thrown on top. A refrigerator was found stocked with food and a break room contained a microwave used to prep the meals. A makeshift shower or spigot coming out of a wall was used by the women to shower.
Polaris, a leading anti-trafficking group, says more than 9,000 massage businesses are operating across the country. The data gathered by this organization shows spa workers are often mothers who come from poor, rural parts of China. They are lead to believe they are going to work as legitimate masseuses and can send money back to their families. Once they are here, things take a turn for the worse. They are entirely dependent on their employers and forced into prostitution by threats or coercion. Their passports are taken and relatives in China are threatened.
Florida authorities are working diligently to make their cases against the owners of these illegal operations. Their task will be made more difficult as these women are reluctant to testify against the owners out of fear for their safety.
Robert Kraft reportedly intends to plead not guilty to the charges against him. Defendants typically charged with similar crimes in Florida face up to one year in jail, 100 hours of community service, a $5,000 fine and completion of an educational program on prostitution and human trafficking. Sources say he may negotiate a plea deal where he will avoid jail time.
His lawyers have insisted that the women who allegedly committed sex acts with Kraft were not victims of human trafficking, but rather employees of the spa.
Either way, men like Kraft, who continually patronize establishments like the one in Florida, are partly responsible for illegal activity. Without “johns,” like Mr. Kraft, paying for the services of these types of business, there would be no money to be used to fund the reprehensible act of human sex trafficking.