BY RICK PFEIFFER
A task force of federal, county and local law enforcement officers swept through Niagara and northern Erie County early Monday morning shutting down four massage parlors — one in Lockport — and a fortune teller that were reportedly fronts for a prostitution ring.
U.S. Attorney Terrence Flynn said three people, including a husband and wife, were arrested at a home they shared on Bowen Drive West, North Tonawanda. A fourth defendant was picked up in Atlanta.
The raids wrapped up a 15-month investigation conducted by the U.S. attorney’s Human Trafficking Task Force. It is one of 42 such groups across the U.S. that work to identify, rescue and assist victims of human trafficking, human smuggling and other civil and human rights offenses.
The massage and acupressure spa establishments that were targeted included: the Lotus Acupressure Spa, 225 East Ave., Lockport; the Lotus Spa, 446 Third St., Niagara Falls; Golden Acupressure and Lucky J Fortune Teller, 3571 Niagara Falls Blvd., Wheatfield; and Lotus Acupressure, 2302 Niagara Falls Blvd., Tonawanda.
At those locations, federal authorities said they found nine women, all of them illegal aliens from Asia, who spoke little English. Investigators said the women were held as virtual captives at the locations.
While advertising as legitimate massage and acupressure spas, investigators said none of the businesses accepted insurance-related cards or discounts. They also said the businesses operated as “cash only” and did not accept credit cards.
Acts of prostitution, described as “happy endings” ranged in cost from $100 to $300, depending on the act.
Those arrested are charged with operating a massage parlor as fronts for prostitution by aliens, failing to file the requisite factual statement with the appropriate immigration authorities and conspiracy. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, or both.
The nine women rescued from the parlors are being housed and assisted by The International Institute of Buffalo.
BY RICK PFEIFFER
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