We're not sure exactly what authorities thought was going on in the storefront Asian massage parlors that dot strip centers across North Texas. They seem to have taken the ads promising "Fantastic Good Massage" from "Cute & Pretty Staff" at face value. Plano Police Chief Greg Rushin says his department began suspecting otherwise in 2011 after citizens complained of suspicious activity at the spas.
The scales fell from their eyes gradually over the next two years as local police departments, Homeland Security, and the FBI
probed ahem investigated what extensive video surveillance, trash-digging, search warrants, and a lot of undercover work would eventually reveal to be brothels.
Turns out, the alleged prostitution ring was bigger than the Galleria-area massage parlor and Far North Dallas home that Dallas police busted on Tuesday. At a news conference yesterday, federal prosecutors announced they've made 20 arrests and shut down nine massage parlors and a couple of homes in Dallas, Hurst, and Plano.
It was even big enough at least to merit an official nickname: Operation Flaming Dragon. Because Asian.
According to the federal indictment unsealed yesterday, the prostitution ring was headed by a Richardson man who goes by Tony Ha (his legal name is Quyen Thuc Ha), who ran a minor empire of brothels posing as Asian massage joints like Ni-Ni-Ja Foot Massage in Plano, D-Spa on Coit Road in Dallas, and the Hurst Asian Spa.
Prostitutes are transported from California, Nevada, and Georgia, among other locations, to Texas to work for the business enterprise at various locations. The business enterprise pays for the prostitutes airfare either to or from Texas, and the prostitutes are required to pay for the other leg of the trip. Prostitutes work for approximately three to four weeks and are rotated among the business enterprise's locations. After their rotation among the business enterprise's locations have concluded, the prostitutes depart Texas. If a prostitute is successful working for the business enterprise, she may remain in Texas for a longer period of time.
Read the full indictment on page two. Ha's operation also bought massive quantities of Crown-brand condoms, manufactured in Stratford, Connecticut, which prosecutors note by way of underlining the fact that Ha's operation involved interstate commerce and is therefore a federal crime.
Ten others are named in the indictment besides Ha. Some, like Yu Ling Chang ("Rica" or "Jennifer"), whom Ha refers to as his wife, helped manage the brothels. Others, like Tin Min Lo ("Gordon") and Michael Jones ("Michael") are accused of helping transport the women and bail them out of jail. Still more, like Xia Xu ("Coco") are identified as prostitutes. The other nine arrestees are being charged in state court.
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At yesterday's press conference, U.S. Attorney told reporters that there was no evidence that human trafficking was involved, which didn't stop WFAA from declaring that the woman "are not willing participants." Nor were any children involved, though Child Protective Services took custody of a 6-month-old boy, a 5-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl from a Plano home.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have seized $305,000 in cash, nine cars -- including Lexus, BMW and Mercedes -- and the alleged ringleaders' Plano home where the alleged ringleaders lived.