NewsCrimeHuman Trafficking


Inside the day spas: A first-look at living conditions behind an alleged human trafficking ring

Conditions in an alleged human-trafficking ring
Posted at 4:25 PM, Apr 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-05 18:50:43-04

VERO BEACH, Fla. - For weeks, law enforcement officials told the public they believe local women, living inside Asian day spas, were victims of human trafficking.

The investigation made national headlines, but agencies were wary to release evidence early on in the case.

Now, for the first time, evidence released this week by the State Attorney's Office provides a glimpse into the conditions these women were forced to endure.

RELATED: Never-before-seen evidence released in Asian massage parlor bust out of Indian River County

Pictures taken by the Vero Beach Police Dept., the Sebastian Police Dept. and the Indian River County Sheriff's Office show women living in makeshift bedrooms and cooking out of makeshift kitchens.

One image shows a woman sleeping inside a spa.

While law enforcement officials admit these types of investigations are lengthy and often difficult to prove, the case was blown wide-open for one local agency thanks to one woman's courage.

Newly released police records detail information provided to the Vero Beach Police Dept. by a woman who worked at the spa. She was identified as a victim and directed to "human trafficking services and transported to a safe location for further assistance."

The victim told law enforcement that she "came to East Spa from New York after answering" an online advertisement. She "was told not to leave during the day and night" and also paid "$10 a day in order to stay at the spa and no other living option was ever discussed."

Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey spoke with Contact 5 exclusively on Thursday, shortly after evidence in his agency's investigation was released.

"You really want to arrest the business owners, the orchestrators, the people that have opened these stores up and brought these women in.

"If you don’t, and it’s happened before, they will go to another city, either in Florida or another state, and do it all over again," said Currey.

According to the report, the victim, who was not publicly identified, told Vero Beach Police that "the only time she was able to get groceries or food was when Lanyun Ma or [Ma's] husband" drove her. The woman also said on "her second day at the spa Lanyun Ma" told her she was "expected to perform sex acts for money."

RELATED: Human trafficking investigation special section

Vero Beach Police worked in tandem with other agencies. Newly released evidence includes from both the Sebastian Police Dept. and the Indian River County Sheriff's Office as well.

Undercover video from the Sebastian Police Dept. shows a woman soliciting a detective for sexual acts at AA Massage.

In the video, never-before-seen by the public, the detective asks, "How much more is that going to cost me? $60? For a hand job?"

In another report from the Indian River County Sheriff's Office, a victim who is cooperating with law enforcement told officials she "did not have keys to the business" because "she was living" at the spa.

The report does not identify the woman by name. She was interviewed a second time by detectives on March 25, several weeks after law enforcement agencies announced charges stemming from the investigation.

The woman told detectives she "would have to perform any type of sexual act" and "first became aware of it with her first client."

There "was no discussion between her and the owner" of the spa "about performing any sexual acts," according to the report. The woman also told law enforcement "she earned between $100 and $150" a day.

"If there wasn’t such an interest in these places, these places wouldn’t open or stay open" said Currey. "I can’t say surprised, disappointed for sure. We’re not immune, no community is immune."

Follow Merris Badcock on Twitter to learn more about the evidence as it’s uncovered.