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Utah massage parlor bust exposes human trafficking in Salt Lake, Utah counties

Posted at 7:19 PM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 00:34:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A huge sting operation across Salt Lake and Utah counties ended with several massage parlors busted Wednesday, and three people arrested as part of a human and sex trafficking ring.

Several local and state law enforcement agencies swooped in on seven locations all at the same time in Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Taylorsville, and American Fork.

FOX 13 went on an exclusive ride along to Magic Massage at 330 West 700 South in Salt Lake City. Sitting in an unmarked vehicle, investigators watched the business from afar.

Parked in front of Magic Massage, a man got out of his car and walked inside. Authorities waited for the right moment to strike.

A line of law enforcement officers suddenly rushed to the front of the business, and barged through the front door. The man was already undressed.

"Take down all of the players, and take the bite out of the crime, so-to-speak," said Taylorsville Police Deputy Chief Todd Gray, of their intentions Wednesday.

The entire sting operation started when one of his detectives received a tip about a single massage parlor, and decided to investigate.

"This was part of a lengthy investigation," Deputy Chief Gray said. "This has been going on for several months, actually."

Their careful, months-long investigation grew to locations all over the valley, he indicated, and crossed into Utah County.

The massage parlors include Magic Massage, Blue Spot Massage, Le Q Massage, and One Way Massage in Salt Lake City; GJO Massage in West Valley City; and Lavender Massage in American Fork.

Leo Lucey, Chief of Investigations at the Utah Attorney General's Office, explained that the they believe the businesses offered more than just massages, and served as a front for a human and sex trafficking criminal operation.

"The women were being moved from one parlor to another, but it was a large group of women that they just rotated around under this enterprise," Lucey said.

FOX 13 also rode along to a home on Sir Timothy Avenue in Salt Lake City, where detectives took a man and a woman into custody. They seized $100,000, mostly in straight cash.

Lucey described how the victims are often tricked into thinking they are coming to the US for a legitimate job, and a better life.

"Many of them are smuggled in from China through various means and avenues," he said. Lucey went on to say that the women are under the impression that work visas have been secured for them, but all documents are immediately taken away from them upon arriving in the US.

He said the victims arrive in port cities, and are flown to Salt Lake City where they are then distributed throughout the area to massage parlors. The women have nowhere to go, and no way to escape.

"They’re basically in servitude," Lucey said. "Their food, their shelter, their employment is all being controlled by these individuals."

Lucey said they identified more than a dozen victims in Wednesday's bust between the six massage parlors. The women were offered assistance and were provided with shelter, medical care and other services.

The Asian Association of Utah, interpreters, and victim's advocates are now working closely to help the victims from here, Lucey indicated.

"It’s very complex. It’s very resource intensive," Lucey said, adding, "But it’s also extremely worthwhile, when you see these young women hopefully getting a better start at something that they intended to come here for."

Lianfang Feng (54), Ruixue Chen (37), and Xiuyun Huo (45) were all arrested in relation to the incident on charges of exploitation of a prostitute, aiding prostitution, money laundering, pattern of unlawful activity, and maintaining a public nuisance.

All bank accounts and assets for the suspects have been frozen.

Multiple community partners worked with the Attorney General's office on this case including: Taylorsville PD, West Valley City PD, American Fork PD, Lindon PD, UPD, Davis County Metro, Park City PD, West Jordan PD, DPS, and other federal partners.

The investigation is ongoing. Watch FOX 13 and follow for updates.