VERO BEACH, Fla. – Hundreds of photos and surveillance videos, thousands of pages of police paperwork, and numerous recorded interviews round out some of the most valuable evidence gathered in human-trafficking investigation out of Indian River County.
On Thursday, the State Attorney’s Office made the evidence public, showing for the first time just how in-depth detectives went in the months-long investigation that made national headlines.
The multi-agency sting involved the Vero Beach Police Dept., Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and Sebastian Police Dept.
The Dept. of Homeland Security also assisted local law enforcement, with a special agent pulling phone records, bank records, and even Sunpass Florida records as part of the investigation, according to the evidence released Thursday. The Orange County Sheriff's Office, Orlando Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, and the 19th Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office participated in the investigation as well.
Collaboration between the agencies resulted in the arrests of more than 200 people across the county, and allowed Vero Beach Police to bring about the only human trafficking related charge against a suspect.
“I have to be honest. Some of the images were very disheartening,” Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey told Contact 5 shortly after the evidence was released. “[It] could make you sick to your stomach.”
#UPDATE: Never-before-seen evidence released in multi-agency, massage parlor bust out of Indian River Co. It appears still shots of cameras hidden in ceiling tiles are included, but not the full-length videos. https://t.co/VDpH0YE8Ck @WPTV @WPTVContact5 @PhotogEricP @ejaltmann pic.twitter.com/O1vORo368y— Merris Badcock (@MerrisBadcock) April 5, 2019
While the evidence may be new to the public, Currey knew months ago just what his detectives had.
“I said, ‘If we are going to do this, we are going to see this through,’” said Currey. “’We are going to be patient. We are going to be committed.’ You don’t put a timeline on something like that.”
Contact 5 Investigators spent the afternoon reviewing the never-before- seen evidence, which includes thousands of pages of documents, surveillance and undercover videos, bank records, and a look at the "sneak-and-peek" search warrants which allowed law enforcement officials to place hidden cameras inside a spa during their investigation.
The newly released evidence also reveals police interviews with several suspects, including Lanyun Ma, the only person charged with human trafficking by way of racketeering in the case.
Watch the police interview with Ma in the video player below:
Video from inside a local Wal-Mart shows Ma buying condoms around 8:00 in the morning for a woman standing next to her. According to a search warrant, "no women were observed leaving the business on their own."
Ma was previously charged with human trafficking in a small Massachusetts town a few years ago.
Records show law enforcement in Massachusetts began investigating a "massage parlor offering sexual conduct for a fee" in December 2011. Ma was one of two suspects identified as "responsible for running the day to day operations" of the spa.
The investigation lasted several months and culminated in Ma's arrest on Aug. 9, 2012. However, prosecutors there allowed her to plead the charge down to a lesser crime.
Contact 5 also reviewed photos that were taken by law enforcement from inside East Spa in Vero Beach, providing a glimpse inside the now-shuttered massage parlor. The pictures show cash, credit cards, massage rooms and a room with two beds among the over 200 photos released in discovery.
Photos of a notebook include a reference to RubMaps.com and what appears to be login information for an escort-based website.
The discovery batch released today also includes the sneak-and-peek warrant that allowed law enforcement officials to install hidden cameras as part of the investigation.
The warrant, filed by the Indian River County Sheriff's Office reveals that the East Sea Spa in Sebastian had a phone number listed on advertisements found on websites that were all "dedicated to sexually oriented businesses and information, not quality massage therapy."
Following the installation of the cameras, law enforcement "observed over 35 sexual acts performed at East Sea Spa" according to the warrant.
One key piece of evidence that was not released is video inside the massage rooms during the execution of the "sneak and peek warrant."
The State Attorney's Office confirmed these videos are still in the custody of law enforcement.
Follow Merris Badcock on Twitter to learn more about the evidence as it’s uncovered.