Some 1,300 miles separate Oxford, Mass., and Vero Beach, Fla., but police in both communities know Lan Yun Ma : She allegedly manages “spas” that are fronts for prostitution, a ruthless business that preys on immigrants.
Ma was arrested in Vero Beach last month after police spent months tracking her movements and obtained a court order to secretly install a camera inside a spa where it operated for 41 days — capturing nine women being paid to have sex with 140 clients, court records show.
To Oxford Police Chief Anthony Saad, the investigation in Florida was disturbingly similar to one his department and State Police conducted in 2011 into a “health center” in the Worcester County town that led to Ma’s arrest on human trafficking charges.
“They just kind of shuffle the girls in and out. They move. They change their [business] names, their locations,’’ Saad said. “They are hard to keep track of.”
The recent arrest of Ma was part of a sprawling investigation of alleged prostitution at several spas in three Florida counties that has led to charges against some 200 individuals.
Among those charged was Boston area businessman John W. Childs, who was accused of soliciting prostitution at a Vero Beach spa. New England Patriots owner Robert K. Kraft, meanwhile, faces two misdemeanor charges for allegedly soliciting prostitution at another spa in Jupiter, about 60 miles from Vero Beach.
In the Vero Beach case, Ma is charged with unlawful transportation for the purpose of prostitution. According to police, Ma was the only woman who walked in and out of the “spa” unescorted during the monthslong investigation. When other women left the premises, it was always with her.
Investigators uncovered the same scenario in Oxford some eight years ago, according to an Oxford police report.
“Three Asian females were rescued from indentured sexual servitude,’’ the Oxford report states. “One such victim explained she had been brought from China under the ruse of attending college in California; however, she was quickly moved into a massage parlor.”
Ma was charged with human trafficking in Massachusetts — before the state’s more aggressive law took effect — and ultimately pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of solicitation for prostitution. Ma was sentenced to 30 days in the House of Correction and three years of probation, according to Worcester prosecutors.
Saad said that his town has long wrestled with the issue of spas or massage parlors providing cover for prostitution rings. Recently, the town enacted an ordinance that requires anyone who works at a massage parlor or spa to identify themselves to town officials and show proof they have obtained a massage license from the state.
The town can move to shut them down — there are three currently operating in Oxford — if they do not comply with the new bylaws, Saad said.
The bylaws give police and the town’s Board of Health the authority to search the facilities, which could lead to the discovery, at a much earlier time, of women being coerced into sex trafficking.
“We hope the recent passage of this bylaw will help us control some of the issues that are going out there,’’ Saad wrote. “It’s something we’ve been struggling with for a long time.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.