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Five owners and operators were arrested and the massage parlors were shuttered last week in the raids in Seattle's Chinatown-International District and Beacon Hill neighborhoods. A small neon sign. Grimy windows blacked out with heavy fabric. In January , a woman whose daughter lived in the apartment building noticed a male-only clientele visiting the storefront, mostly at night. The complaint she sent to police set in motion a vast prostitution and money-laundering investigation, tying massage parlors and spas in Seattle to a sophisticated criminal network that brings Chinese women into the U.
Twenty-six Chinese women, many of them new arrivals who spoke little or no English, were removed from the parlors, where they lived and worked in squalid, dingy conditions. King County prosecutors have since charged two men and three women with money laundering and three to six counts each of second-degree promoting prostitution.
A fourth woman, believed to have returned to China in , was also charged but remains at large. Two of the suspects posted bail and were required to turn over their passports, according to prosecutors.
Like the women recovered from the parlors, all of the suspects are Chinese or Chinese-American, Umporowicz said. The women, in their late 20s to early 60s, worked six or seven days a week, often for 14 or more hours a day, according to police and charging papers. At least one woman disclosed being sexually assaulted by customers and another said she had been robbed; others reported being slapped and verbally abused, the charges say. From the beginning, the focus of the investigation was on targeting the people responsible for exploiting and profiting from the Chinese women being brought into the country to staff the parlors, and not on the men who patronize them, Nollette and Umporowicz said.
The fact six suspects were actually charged is a victory. We put property owners on notice that criminal activity was happening in their rental buildings and we rescued 26 women. But investigating the owners and operators of the Chinese-run massage parlors required different tactics, due to language and cultural barriers. He did, however, send in detectives to pose as customers — and women agreed to perform sex acts at all the targeted spas and parlors. In each instance, the charges say, the detective used a ruse and walked out before any sex acts were performed.