Andrew Welsh-Huggins
AP Legal Affairs Writer

COLUMBUS: Dozens or even hundreds of men visited a series of massage parlors for illegal sex in a northeast Ohio city where the women in the businesses, many of them Korean and poor English speakers, may be working against their will, according to search warrants executed on the parlors.

The warrants describe in graphic detail the type and cost of alleged sexual acts at the spas in Warren, just east of Akron, and portray women working long hours who are escorted when they want to go shopping by men dubbed “jockeys.”

The spas are run by an unknown “higher up” who brings the women from Korea to New York to Ohio, where they apparently believe they’ll have a better life than in Korea, according to copies of the search warrants reviewed by The Associated Press.

A man who acknowledged to investigators he frequented several of the spas monthly said he suspected that some of the women “do not want to be working at these places,” the search warrants said.

One 25-year-old employee of Gemini Health Spa said she worked 12-hour shifts three days a week, where her job was to bring men into the spa, give them showers, wash them, provide massages and then perform sex acts.

The warrants say many of the women are Korean and appear not to speak good English. The customers were mainly from outside the Warren area.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says about 60 agents in his office’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation served search warrants Wednesday on eight spa businesses. DeWine launched the investigation at the request of Warren Police Chief Timothy Bowers. The businesses include Sun Spa, Tokyo Health Spa and Hong Kong Spa.

An attorney who represents several of the spas in a fight with the city over their licensing said he planned a response to the allegations later Thursday.

One 56-year-old female employee from Korea told investigators many of the women don’t have green cards allowing them to stay legally in the country.

Warren officials have struggled for years to address the spas, which have long been the source of prostitution allegations.

The city began licensing them in the 1990s in an effort to regulate them, said Warren Law Director Gregory Hicks.

He said that may have had the unintended consequence of legitimizing the establishments, which have been difficult to investigate given the city’s limited resources.

With the help of the Attorney General’s Office, authorities took a different approach over a yearlong investigation. Instead of targeting individual employees with prostitution charges, investigators used remote control cameras to record customers entering and leaving the businesses, then identified the customers and interviewed them about the activities inside, according to the search warrants.

“Our goal was to make them go away legally and the way to do that was to build a case to show they’re a nuisance,” Hicks said.

Over the years the number of spas has grown, thanks to the licensing and Warren’s proximity to several highways, Hicks said Thursday. He has ordered the Health Department to suspend the parlors’ licenses, and he plans by Monday to file nuisance lawsuits against each business.

Before Wednesday’s raids, the spas were already challenging a new city law that steeply raises their licensing fees and sets limits on the hours of operation.