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3 more arrested at airport in Utah County massage parlor raids

SHARE 3 more arrested at airport in Utah County massage parlor raids

Police officers search a vehicle outside of massage parlor in Orem on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. At least six people were arrested Thursday following an investigation into several massage parlors in Utah County that police say were fronts for human trafficking and prostitution. Three more were arrested over the weekend at the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

AMERICAN FORK — Three more people have been arrested in connection with a raid of a group of massage parlors in Utah County where police say prostitution and human trafficking occurred.

Jing Wang, 34, and Xiaoxia Liu, 60, both of Chicago, were booked into the Utah County Jail over the weekend for investigation of human trafficking, money laundering, engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, prostitution and tampering with a witness.

A third woman was also arrested on suspicion of a misdemeanor charge. But according to several police affidavits, investigators are mostly worried about the woman fleeing the state or being “sucked back into” the human trafficking operation. The woman was found with Wang and Liu at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Saturday attempting to leave Utah.

The latest arrests follow a police raid of four massage parlors in Orem and American Fork on Thursday that resulted in six people being taken into custody. The woman, who police say was rescued during the operation, was given the number of the Trafficking In Persons program at Asian Association of Utah to help her

But despite being directed toward those services, the members of the trafficking organization were still able to reach her, said American Fork Police Lt. Josh Christensen.

After the initial six arrests, police listened to phone calls some of those people made from the Utah County Jail to other members of their organization, in which they talked about the woman going to Chicago, the affidavits state. Detectives then learned the woman had contacted the help group and told them she wanted to leave Utah to go to Chicago.

“Detectives believe that the victim was contacted by members of the organization and was being forced back into trafficking,” according to the affidavits.

Christensen said police believe more threats were made against the woman to force her back into the group.

On Saturday, while monitoring the airport, police watched as the woman pulled up to the terminal along with Wang and Liu.

Wang and the woman were stopped inside the terminal carrying two suitcases. In addition to passports, iPhones and clothing, inside the suitcases detectives found “incriminating documents belonging to the victim as well as approximately $40,000 in jewelry and other merchandise,” police wrote.

Investigators say they believe the jewelry was from the proceeds made from the illegal massage parlors and that they “were using the victim to send money to their associates in Chicago,” according to the affidavits.

Liu was driving the vehicle that dropped the woman off at the airport.

Police said they learned that one of those arrested on Thursday had Liu’s phone number saved and listed under “laoban” which means “boss.”

“I believe that based on her title of boss and coordination of cover-up efforts and the reference by other suspects of an unknown boss, that she has been coordinating the human trafficking and prostitution ring that exists in Utah County,” the arresting officer wrote in the affidavit after booking Liu into jail.

Liu has previously been arrested in Illinois for investigation info prostitution, the affidavit states.

Although the woman being sent to Chicago technically broke the law at the massage parlors by offering sex acts to customers, which is why she was arrested, Christensen said the main goal of police is to keep her safe from human trafficking until the case is resolved.

“I want to make it clear, we are not interested in pursuing charges on her. She is a true victim who has been forced and coerced into doing these criminal acts,” he said.

Investigators fear she will attempt, or be coerced into fleeing the state again if released from jail. They have requested she either be held without bail or be forced to wear a GPS ankle monitor if released.

Contributing: Paul Nelson

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly said the victim received help from the Asian Aid Society. The group is called the Asian Association of Utah.