PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Police have arrested 13 women in connection with a prostitution investigation at two Pawtucket spas.
Police said they executed search warrants Thursday at Harmony Spa on Benefit St. and Far East Acupressure on East St. after receiving complaints from neighbors and businesses.
Thirteen women were arrested, though not all are accused of receiving money for sex acts.
Three of the women were charged with not having the required massage therapy license and pandering or permitting prostitution:
- Stelly Sang Ok, 64, of Killeen, Texas
- Jeongsuk Lee, 62, of Avon, Connecticut
- Jean Son Derrico, 60, of Flushing, New York
Derrico was identified in court documents as the operator/manager of Harmony Spa, while Ok was identified as the operator/manager of Far East.
Ten employees in total were arrested. Four of the women are facing one charge of prostitution, as well as massaging without a license.
- Hyo Yeon Im, 45, of San Jose, California
- Inok Bang, 33, of Flushing, New York
- Heeyong Kim, 38, of Bayside, New York
- Mi Young Lim, 45, of Bayside, New York
An additional six women were charged with not having the required massage therapy license.
- Kisook Kim, 45, of Whitestone, New York
- Ju Yeon Hill, 46, of Los Angeles, California
- Hyun Jung Kim, 46, of Bayside, New York
- Jung Youn Min, 47, of Flushing, New York
- Shunwa Kim, 45, of Flushing, New York
- Yeoung Jeoung, 40, of Bayside, New York
All 13 women were arraigned Friday afternoon and released on personal recognizance. John Ruginski, the defense attorney representing them, said the women were not being trafficked.
“All my clients were residing at local apartments, not living in spas,” Ruginski said in an email. “Also trafficking is not involved. No further comment.”
The police department’s public information officers did not respond to questions about whether they suspected trafficking in this case.
Both spas were closed on Friday and their doors locked. Several of the defendants were seen inside the pizza place next door to Harmony Spa shortly after their arraignments. The women declined to speak to an Eyewitness News reporter. Some of the women exited the business a short time later and got into a white SUV with New York registration.
Wilder Arboleda, a spokesperson for the city, said the city is not legally authorized to shut the businesses down. It’s unclear if the owners will open them up following the arrests.
“This type of criminal activity is not acceptable and will not be tolerated,” Arboleda said.
Arboleda said the city is not currently enforcing its “body works” ordinance, passed by the city council specifically to address businesses like the two in this case that were suspected of sexual activity. If enforced, the ordinance would require spas to be licensed and subject to regulation by the city. State lawmakers passed enabling legislation in 2016 to give cities and towns the power to regulate body works spas.
Both Harmony Spa and Far East sued over the Pawtucket ordinance, and the city prevailed in Superior Court in 2017 when Judge Richard Licht declared the ordinance constitutional. The two spas are appealing to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
Arboleda said the city would not enforce the ordinance during the appeal.
On a controversial massage parlor website known for pointing customers to spas that offer sexual services, Harmony Spa offers an hour-long massage for $70. Far East charges $60.