CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Detectives raided six Cranston massage parlors Thursday following a lengthy investigation into reports of suspicious activity happening there.
Cranston Police Col. Michael Winquist tells 12 News the investigation began after the department received numerous complaints from concerned neighbors of illegal activity.
An affidavit obtained by 12 News reveals the complaints at the establishments were for “commercial sexual activity in exchange for a fee … as well as human and labor trafficking.”
Winquist said in some instances, investigators heard from former clients who were shocked when their masseuses alluded to engaging in sexual activities for additional fees.
“Some people who visited these establishments were offered sex and were actually angered because they thought it was a legitimate massage parlor and were instead offered sexual services,” Winquist explained.
Three of the massage parlors “do not advertise under a business name,” according to the affidavit. The other three are advertised as a hair salon, foot spa and tanning salon, respectively.
Detectives began surveilling the businesses and ultimately discovered all of the clients were men, according to the affidavit, “despite most of the businesses having advertisements hanging in the window indicating ‘facials, skincare and waxing,’ [which are] services usually geared toward female clients.”
Investigators later learned the massage parlors were advertising “young Asian girls” on websites typically used to sell sex. On those websites, clients left reviews and described the services they paid for, nearly all of which were sexually explicit in nature.
Winquist described all six of the massage parlors as “completely unlicensed operations,” saying none of them, nor the masseuses, were authorized to conduct business in Rhode Island.
Over the course of the investigation, he said the undercover officers who visited the massage parlors reported the women who serviced them offered them sex for money.
Detectives simultaneously executed search warrants at all six businesses Thursday, during which Winquist said 11 people were taken into custody, nearly all of them women.
While he expects some will be charged with massaging without a license, he’s not sure if they will face any additional charges, based on the circumstances.
“We are concerned that some of the women at these locations are really victims and are working here against their will,” Winquist explained.
Winquist said right now, detectives are trying to determine who owns the businesses and where the money is going.
“The investigation is far from over at this point,” he said.
Deborah Dreyer owns a salon that’s located next door to one of the businesses. She said customers mistaking her business for one of the massage parlors has been an ongoing problem.
“I’m just glad that I won’t be having a bunch of men coming to my door asking me for that anymore,” she said.
Carie Strange, a reflexologist who works at Dreyer’s salon, tells 12 News incidents like this give the practice a bad name and hurt honest, hard-working people.
“It boosts your immunity and there are so many benefits people are missing out on because of that stigma,” Strange said of her profession. “So that affects me greatly and I will not reduce myself to that.”