Judge extends restraining order against Asian massage parlors
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. Republic Road; Golden Massage, 4728 S. Campbell Ave.; Relax Massage, or Relax Spa, 2022 S. Stewart Ave.; and Great Spa, 2841 S. Fremont Ave. 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. Those businesses are Shui Massage and Spa, 520 W. University Ave.; Chi Spa, 2971 E. Chestnut Expressway; Lotus Spa, 220 W. Sunshine St.; Massage Best Spa, 1550 E. Battlefield Road; Peace Massage, also known as Magic Spa, 3029 E. Sunshine St.; and Sunshine Spa, 1925 S. Glenstone Ave.
[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. A KY3 reporter learned authorities rescued about 10 alleged victims.
This likely will be the first of many hearings in these cases, which were brought jointly by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, two assistant attorneys general, and Greene County's prosecuting attorney were in court on Friday morning seeking a temporary restraining order against six of the 13 businesses targeted by raids around Springfield looking for evidence of human trafficking and prostitution. They are the six businesses against whom investigators believe they had enough evidence to seek the order.
Prosecutors told Greene County Circuit Judge Michael Cordonnier that investigators found evidence of illegal sexual activity at all 13 businesses and at least one of them admitted to prostitution taking place. Investigators also reported they spoke with some customers who admitted to engaging in sexual activity at the businesses.
Investigators believe the masseuses are victims of human trafficking from East Asia. Hawley said investigators believe some masseuses were being forced to live in the businesses. They took a number of women to a local shelter, where they will receive counseling and other victim services.
One of three people listed as owners of Angel Massage took the stand in court. She admitted to engaging in sexual activity but only one time, saying she had feelings for the person and knew it was wrong. She had to have a translator because she speaks Chinese. Another of the owners of Angel Massage was in court with her husband, who denies his wife was involved in any illegal activity.
The judge granted a temporary 10-day restraining order barring the businesses from operating illegally.
Hawley says this is an active and ongoing investigation.
“We have every reason to believe there are businesses of this nature around the state. I mean, we know that to be true, and we have active investigations in other places in the state,” he said.
The next hearing for these six businesses is now scheduled for July 28.
Some Asian massage parlors raided in Springfield are still open for business. We found at least two open on Tuesday while prosecutors continue their investigation that could shut them down for good.
Even without felony charges filed that would close them all down, the raids were still a win. Authorities say they rescued 10 victims, counseled them, and they will soon be living a better life.
Investigators believe the owners of the Asian massage parlors in Springfield forced employees to perform sexual services that they didn't want to do -- and many were living inside the businesses.
"They were here until, like, very late," said neighboring business owner Kristina Yelisey. "So I was, like, maybe they sleep over here."
The business owner next door was right.
"In the back, they hung their laundry and I was, like, that's a little suspicious for me," said Yelisey.
Phoenix Massage on East Republic is just one parlor that was still operating on Tuesday. Eventually, the businesses might be closed down altogether.
"I certainly anticipate more serious charges to come," said Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson. "We are working, but we do not have a timetable."
Patterson says there's much more evidence to pore over. Either way, those passionate about eradicating trafficking say the raid is a win.
"I'm not at all surprised that it has happened here," said Dr. Rachael Herrington.
Herrington founded Stand Against Trafficking in 2012. She says public education is key. You will see the organization's ads in magazines in every hotel in town.
"There are cases of teens being trafficked even while they are still living at home," said Herrington. "We get cases of domestic trafficking as well."
She says sex trafficking doesn't always look like an international victim at a parlor. It's a common domestic problem, even in rural America.
"A young girl said, ‘I was trafficked and I never left my city,’" said Herrington. "The parents just think they are spending the night with a friend but actually they are being prostituted out. People will go onto social media and pretend they are a modeling agency or something like that."
The raids last week turned up about 10 victims. They were taken in by an agency that provided food, clothing, shelter, and counseling. The agency will get them back where they need to go.
Herrington says it's an issue of supply and demand. As long as men are willing to buy sexual services, other businesses likely will pop up in their place.
Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson announced nine massage parlor operators face misdemeanor charges of operating a massage business without the proper state license.
Patterson says charges represent the next step in the ongoing collaborative efforts to close the businesses involved in the human trafficking investigation. Arrest warrants issued for each of the defendants have bond set at $1,000. A condition of the bond is the defendants not operate or be on the premises of a massage business. The individuals charged are:
1. Yunying Yang, Asian, female, DOB: 1/18/1982, operating Shui Massage and Spa, 520 W. University, #E, Springfield, Missouri
2. Fuying Li, Asian, female, 8/1/1980, operating Chi Spa, 2971 E. Chestnut Expressway, Springfield, Missouri
3. Daquiong Wang, Asian, female, DOB: 3/28/1980, operating Golden Massage, 4728 S. Campbell Ave, #112, Springfield, Missouri
4. David Pierson, white, male, DOB: 3/8/1959, operating Lotus Spa, 220 W. Sunshine St., Springfield, Missouri
5. Xiuqin Fan, Asian, female, DOB: 7/30/1965, operating Massage Best Spa, 1550 E. Battlefield Road, Springfield, Missouri
6. Meixiang Cui, Asian, female, DOB: 5/22/1979 operating Great Spa, 2841 S. Fremont Avenue, Springfield, Missouri
7. Jufang Jin, Asian, female, DOB 9/21/1971, operating Peace Massage, aka Magic Spa, 3029 E. Sunshine St., Springfield, Missouri
8. Jinhua Zhou, Asian, female, DOB 5/14/1970, operating Relax Spa, 2022 S. Stewart, Springfield, Missouri
9. Yanqui Cui, Asian, female, DOB: 11/3/1979, operating Sunshine Spa, 1925 S. Glenstone Ave., Springfield, Missouri
The defendants are currently at large. If you have information about their whereabouts, call 911 or contact local law enforcement directly.
-Missouri State Highway Patrol – (417) 895-6868
-Springfield Police Department – (417) 864-1810 You can make your report anonymously at Crime Stoppers – (417-869-TIPS)