EDIT: That's all the time we have for today! Thank you so much for your questions. To follow our coverage visit TCPalm.com.

Hi! We are TCPalm breaking news reporters. Since Feb. 19, our newsroom has reported on spas in which law enforcement officials say women were held in sex slavery on Florida’s Treasure Coast and beyond. The busts, widely described as being linked to human trafficking, received international attention after police in Jupiter said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft got sex services twice during the NFL playoffs at Orchids of Asia Day Spa.

I'm Will Greenlee, and I cover breaking news for the St. Lucie News Tribune and TCPalm on Florida’s Treasure Coast. I was part of coverage of mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc in 2018, Fort Lauderdale airport gunman Esteban Santiago in 2017, Pulse nightclub mass shooter Omar Mateen in 2016 and rapper Vanilla Ice's escaped kangaroo, Bucky Buckaroo, and goat, Pancho, in 2004. For more of my coverage, read "Off The Beat with Will Greenlee", and follow me @OffTheBeatTweet.

I'm Mary Helen Moore, and I cover breaking news in Vero Beach, Fla. and the surrounding area. I’m interested in the environment, criminal justice and civil rights.

Follow me @maryhelenmoore.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/pn1t4l1r5cj21.jpg

Comments: 884 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

mostegregious360 karma

What happens to these girls now? Are they deported? Or are they given an opportunity to remain in the US?

TCPalm694 karma

Most of them are incarcerated right now, charged with engaging in prostitution or similar crimes. Prosecutors are going to try and get them to be witnesses instead. Two we know are in shelters.

There are special visas for crime victims and specifically for human trafficking victims, so it's unlikely they would be deported if their charges are dropped.

-Mary Helen

ecbremner266 karma

It seems like these spas are the worst kept secret out there. My wife and her mother were in Florida and wanted to go to a legitimate spa... and stumbled into one of the spas on the list here. They noped right the hell out of there as soon as they realized what it really was. She looked later and the yelp reviews were screaming about what the place really was. Seems like everyone knew that it was a front. I guess my question is... why does it take so long for what seems like something so very obvious to get taken down?

TCPalm151 karma

I'm not sure! I encourage everyone to make police reports if something seems off. There seems to be an interest among law enforcement in making these investigations a priority, despite how time-consuming and difficult they are.

-Mary Helen

scallywag74252 karma

Will, have you ever listened to the podcast Dumb People Town ? They love your work on some of the move outlandish stories you cover.

TCPalm161 karma

I have not listened to it. I need to check it out!!! -- Will

yahhhguy164 karma

How do you feel about ideas to legalize prostitution?

TCPalm224 karma

Mary Helen here. I think people have this idea that prostitution is a "victimless" crime, but we see over and over again that the people working as prostitutes are really vulnerable for a variety of reasons. Would legalization put an end to all that exploitation? Maybe. But I don't know the answer to that.

TCPalm19 karma

Some people have advocated for that, but that is not something that we are investigating.

--Will

paulriley1977126 karma

Do you honestly think there was any "sex slavery" or "trafficking" happening here? Or is this just general run-of-the-mill prostitution?

Despite police claims, no trafficking charges have been filed (to my knowledge). So what's the real story?

TCPalm179 karma

From what law enforcement are telling us, yes it seems like these were definitely connected to human traffickers with roots in China.

It doesn't appear right now that prosecutors are pursuing any trafficking charges (although police in Vero Beach said one woman was actually charged with human trafficking), BUT there is still some time. They have 15 days from Feb. 19, the date of arrest, to decide and formally file.

Florida's human trafficking statute only goes back to 2012 and has an extremely high burden of proof. I'd bet they're going to pursue racketeering instead, which can still get you 30 years behind bars, so it's nothing to sneeze at.

-Mary Helen

TCPalm54 karma

Investigators in Martin County have said they have three women in custody. One was described as being in up to her neck in the operation.

As they have gone through the investigation, two other women seem to have become more victims as opposed to defendants. I just published a story on this here: https://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/crime/martin-county/2019/03/01/third-woman-who-may-victim-arrested-complex-sex-spa-saga/3025981002/

--Will

paulriley197750 karma

Thanks to you both. Sometimes it's just hard to separate out the law enforcement and media hysteria from the facts, so I appreciate your work.

Yes, technically both prostutition and sex trafficking are against the law. But I -- like many people my age -- don't really care what two consenting adults do in private, as long as they're truly consenting. Whether or not money changes hands couldn't matter less to me.

But if people are forced into this work against their will, that's a different story.

TCPalm51 karma

And we're trying to keep law enforcement honest about this too, so I appreciate the question.

And I want to be clear -- there hasn't been any evidence to suggest the men paying for prostitution knew the women were being held in sex slavery.

-Mary Helen

TCPalm41 karma

It's very complicated. The sheriff's investigators, at least in Martin County, have said they have plenty of evidence of criminal acts against at least three women. However, as time goes on, they seem to have developed information that the women were really being coerced/forced into this. However, they say they need the women to tell them about it, as opposed to invoking right to remain silent. If women won't tell their story, it doesn't give much for investigators to go on to dismiss charges .

--Will

tyleroni8194 karma

If I recall correctly, besides Robert Kraft there were reports of another celebrity being involved. Is this true?

TCPalm173 karma

Local sources are calling BS. An out-of-town ESPN reporter was the one who claimed that. It would be news to us...

Other notable people who were charged include John Childs (billionaire equity firm owner and Republican donor), John Havens (former Citigroup president) and Johnny DelPrete (former pro golfer).

TheNewJasonBourne124 karma

This to me is a very big seemingly-unexplored area of the story. It is not a surprise to me that 3 wealthy men wanted to purchase sex services, but what is striking to me is that these people with such wealth would patronize such affordable service providers. Guys with this kind of money don't pay $5 for a car wash or $99.95 on a suit.

When news broke of Eliot Spitzer getting busted with his pro, the news about the hourly rates she charged made sense to me. These are rich guys who wanted high-end services and they paid high-end prices which were partially based on paying for confidentiality. Same with Heidi Fleiss' operation.

So why wouldn't men who had the ability to pay for confidentiality choose a service provider that could better supply it? Even if Kraft et al just looked up some high-end escorts on the internet lists and took a random chance. That's a safer bet than a place in a strip mall. To me, there's gotta be more to the story from that angle.

BTW - I realize you're no longer taking questions, but just wanted to put this out there.

P.S. when I refer to the women who 'worked' at the spas in my comments, I am not making any judgements about whether they are victims of human trafficking or not.

TCPalm142 karma

Right! I'm glad I'm not the only one intrigued by this. I think it's all about power. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't think there was a racial component. The men charged are overwhelmingly white, most in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and many are prominent in the local communities. The women are exclusively Asian, typically many years younger. They rarely speak English and they are trapped in this foreign environment where they're utterly powerless. All about power in my eyes. -Mary Helen

TCPalm73 karma

Just so everyone knows, Will stepped away, as we had some breaking news. Two of the men arrested were reportedly misidentified. Story here: https://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/crime/martin-county/2019/03/01/charges-against-man-spa-case-dropped-mistaken-id-case/3029727002/

T1mac72 karma

There are reports the police put cameras in the spa to record the "clients". How did the police gain access, and were they recording the actual encounters?

TCPalm137 karma

Judge approved warrants to get the cameras in. Undercovers installed them, but agencies are being very coy about precisely how. All the sex acts they filed charges on were recorded.

Anyone know the over/under on how long it will take TMZ to get the alleged Kraft tapes?

-Mary Helen

dissenter_the_dragon46 karma

Which spas or areas did you find had the lowest prices?

TCPalm103 karma

In general, men would pay $59 or $69 or $79 up front for the "massage."

Then back in the rooms, the additional services would cost anywhere from $40 to $300. Depending on what you asked for.

-Mary Helen

BouncingDeadCats23 karma

Which spas are these? Where were the women trafficked?

TCPalm65 karma

They've all been shut down now:

East Spa: 2345 14th Ave., Suite 10, Vero Beach

AA Massage: 1547 U.S. 1, Sebastian

East Sea Spa: 13401 U.S. 1, Sebastian

East Spa: 1410A Gene St., Winter Park

Rainbow Spa: 1809-2 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando

Cove Day Spa, 6136 S.E. U.S.1, Stuart

Therapy Spa, 2836 S.E. U.S. 1, Stuart

Bridge Day Spa, 11774 S.E. U.S. 1, Hobe Sound

Orchids of Asia Day Spa, 103 U.S. 1, Jupiter

Sequoia Apple Day Spa, 10447 S.E. U.S. 1, Hobe Sound

mostegregious31 karma

I live in IRC and have seen the lists (eleven so far) of those who "partook". How many more lists will there be?

TCPalm52 karma

There are 165 "johns" charged in Indian River. About 130 have been arrested so far.

We update this gallery daily as the names come in.

https://www.tcpalm.com/picture-gallery/news/crime/indian-river-county/2019/02/20/human-trafficking-florida-indian-river-county-prostitution-arrests/2925781002/

sackshow26 karma

What's the reasoning behind targeting johns instead of the people actually doing the human trafficking?

TCPalm24 karma

I don't think they were targeting johns. Several people believed to have been leading these hyperlocal cells have been arrested, but police still think they've only "scratched the surface."

-Mary Helen

AegonDonut21 karma

Do you have any more details on the timeline for the trafficking investigation? Why did it take 9 months to set up and start charging the individuals involved?

TCPalm33 karma

So the investigations started in July and August. Investigators know at any time there's only going to be a handful of women inside. And they also learned from surveillance that the women are moved around often. They could be in one place anywhere from 2 days to about 3 weeks.

So the longer they take, the more vulnerable girls are going to slip through their fingers.

But it's all a balancing act. They had to gather enough evidence to get "sneak and peek warrants" and install those cameras that caught everyone on tape, so that took time. Plus they're trying to understand how the organization works and build the strongest case against the people in charge.

We'll find out whether that wait was worth it in the courts. Thanks for the question!

-Mary Helen

MnLakers21 karma

Any chance the other spas around Stuart and elsewhere are under investigation, too? There's alot more there are still open.

TCPalm25 karma

That's a big 10-4, according to the MC sheriff's office. Let me get a link for you.

TCPalm20 karma

Here's some additional background. We'll keep updating this story as we learn more. https://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/crime/2019/02/26/florida-human-sex-trafficking-ring-full-story/2978763002/

patb201519 karma

Do you think 'victims' should be held in jail until they testify?

Can you think of any other criminal case where the victims are held as prisoners by their

rescuers?

TCPalm18 karma

I think this is a valid point. Many advocates are suggesting the women receive social services in a shelter rather than sit and wait in jail. Most of the (possible) victims don't yet have legal representation.

-Mary Helen

Cakelord18 karma

How can a person being a victim of human trafficking and a criminal for doing forced acts?

What systems were used to hold these woman under duress?

TCPalm40 karma

I'll give you an example:

A victim from the Vero Beach case was a U.S. citizen living in New York. She speaks only Mandarin and had a massage therapy license. She answered a job ad and someone drove her from New York and dropped her off in Florida for the job. She had no car, did not speak English and was in a completely foreign environment without any relationships. She didn't know this was the job, but when she got here, she was essentially trapped.

For the women recruited from overseas, it's a similar narrative except they are often indebted to the people who helped them get visas. They're basically indentured servants.

-Mary Helen

awbitf13 karma

There's a lot of focus on the John's but I haven't seen much about the owners of the establishments or charges against the traffickers. I get they're not as big and sexy of a story as prominent millionaires, but when will the reporting shift to the root of the problem and solutions?

TCPalm15 karma

We'll keep focused on the major players. Those stories don't get all the attention from our readers that the celebs/billionaires get, but you're right -- that is what this is about. We've covered them extensively and will continue to. Thanks for pointing that out.

-Mary Helen

mrmadwolf9213 karma

Is there a relationship (inverse or otherwise) between consensual sex work and involuntary prostitution? That is, would legalized sex work be a hit to the sex trafficking industry?

TCPalm18 karma

I haven't independently researched this much, but from what I understand, there's conflicting research. -Mary Helen

fladem12 karma

I am a former prosecutor.

With respect to most of these busts the likely defense will be entrapment.

Once cameras were in place did the spa's continue to advertise?

Did any of the participants in the allegations know of the taping?

TCPalm13 karma

It doesn't seem like anyone involved knew about the cameras. Not the 'employees' or the 'clients.'

TheThirdRum5 karma

How can I get involved fighting HT?

TCPalm10 karma

Great question, here's some ways to help, including specific advice for certain professions (attorneys, business owners, health care providers, etc.).

No. 1 to me is get educated on the signs and educate others. If you have even a flicker of suspicion, report it to local authorities. That's how the Vero Beach case started.

https://www.state.gov/j/tip/id/help/

SyntheticOne4 karma

Sorry it it has been asked, but were any of the girls younger than 18?

I ask because it is common in trafficking to enslave younger girls. And, in a related report Mr. Kraft was regularly seen at nightclubs with "young looking" asian girls.

TCPalm3 karma

There is no evidence anyone was underage, according to investigators. -Mary Helen

Aliwithani4 karma

When do you expect the full scope of the investigation to be known? Once all the details are released to you see it changing how people see sex work and trafficking?

I’m surrounded by idiots that think the government is just being mean to a senile old man that was sad he lost his wife and it’s just a big gotcha against him. One even said they didn’t care about the sex trafficking aspect of prostitution. These obviously aren’t people too concerned with the welfare of other people but they aren’t a minority in some areas either.

TCPalm6 karma

In about a month, a process known as discovery will begin, in which prosecutors begin sharing their evidence with defense attorneys. That evidence then becomes part of the public record. We'll get so many more details then, so stay tuned.

Personally, I'm hoping the millions of eyes that are on this Kraft stuff will enable us as a nation to have a real discussion about sex trafficking. It matters.

-Mary Helen

iheartwalltoast2 karma

Kind of off topic, but I'm originally from Vero so I'm curious.

Have you guys been following the YNW Melly murder case? There was an article published in the Vero News that reported police believe he might be linked to a shooting involving a fallen officer in 2017. Pretty tragic story all around.

Have there been any updates on that? What are your thoughts?

TCPalm3 karma

Mary Helen here. I've written a lot about Melly. The Vero News story had two unnamed sources. The Sheriff's Office is not saying Melly is a suspect in the death of Deputy Garry Chambliss, but that case is still under investigation.

Some additional details about the Miramar double-homicide were published today: https://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/crime/indian-river-county/2019/03/01/ynw-melly-murder-case-new-details-released-alleged-cover-up/3026112002/

pm_me_xayah_porn2 karma

How likely will Kraft face any sort of actual punishment? I don't really have an opinion on his hobbies, but I do hate the Patriots and do enjoy any sort of situation that makes their fans mad.

TCPalm5 karma

He can afford very good lawyers. Experts think community service is a real possibility, but jail time is highly unlikely.

-Mary Helen

Miss_Awesomeness1 karma

How are investigators identifying the “johns” did the massage parlor keep detailed records, with names and services provided?

TCPalm3 karma

As the recording inside was happening, they had officers doing surveillance outside. Sometimes they matched the person they saw to a drivers license photo using the vehicle's tag. Sometimes they did a traffic stop on the vehicle and the people inside presented ID. That was the case with Mr. Kraft, police said.

-Mary Helen

mcjagga-11 karma

Which shooting affected you the most?

TCPalm6 karma

they ALL were awful

changaroo13-15 karma

Why does the dude look like someone who partakes in these spas?

TCPalm19 karma

If you are referring to me, Will Greenlee, I can assure you that I have not patronized these establishments. I get it, I have lousy hair, but that doesn't make me a sex spa customer :--)