SEATTLE – A sting operation has brought down part of a prostitution ring in Washington state, saving 26 women from sex work.
An unmarked storefront was known by people soliciting sex as the "Magic Touch." The massage parlor was one of the first on police's radar after tips came in from community members, police said.
“It was a lot of men that were going in and out of the location. They were there for a very short amount of time,” Seattle Police Captain Mike Edwards said.
When investigators followed up on leads, one case ballooned into nearly a dozen illicit operations.
“The traffic was extreme in all them. It was a very large amount of money going through these places on a daily basis,” Edwards said.
According to police, 26 women were freed after the raid.
“These victims were lured to the United States with promises of legal employment and making money and bettering their lives,” Deputy Chief Mark Garth Green said.
Instead, detectives said the women were living in deplorable conditions forced into prostitution up to 20 hours a day.
“These women were working on these sites working 14 to 20 hours a day 7 days a week,” Garth Green said.
Yuko Harrison, who works next door to the building, said the place with no name popped up overnight several years ago. Every morning, she would see the same thing.
“Older Chinese guys, they drop off women just right here. Different women come and go,” Harrison said.
Harrison said she reported the suspicious activity to police several years ago and wondered why nothing happened.
Police said the investigation became complex when they realized it was a criminal network with ties to hubs in New York and California.
“We were a little bit surprised on how it was organized,” Edwards said.
Edwards said the only way law enforcement was going to make a difference was to take down all the operators.
After three years of undercover work, Seattle police, along with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, raided 11 massage parlors at the same time last week.
So far six people have been charged, all Chinese nationals. Five owners or operators were arrested last week in the raid. Police said one suspect is still on the loose.
The 26 women are now working with local service providers to get medical, food and living arrangements.
According to police, the victims range from 20 to 60 years old.