Several Fresno massage parlors busted for alleged prostitution ring

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Investigators say they received complaints about the massage parlors at First and Dakota from their neighbors, other businesses, and a woman who found out about the sex operations when she saw her husband's unusually large massage bill. (KFSN)

An undercover bust took place Tuesday in the spot Fresno police call the busiest place for brothels disguised as massage parlors.

Fresno Police Vice officers shut down six parlors in a single strip mall in east-central Fresno.

Investigators say they get a ton of complaints about the massage parlors at First and Dakota Avenues from their neighbors, other businesses, and one from a woman who found out about the sex operations when she saw her husband's unusually large massage bill on their bank statement.

The flashing neon lights may read "massage," but beyond the waiting room police say what was on the menu was not what was advertised.

"Each time an undercover officer went in there, there were no massages given, it was just straight sex," Sgt. Curtis Chastain with the Fresno Police Department said.

When officers said they didn't have the money for sex, workers directed them to conveniently located ATM in the hallway. Days later, the Vice squad served search warrants at five separate massage businesses, all in the same strip mall.

They've shut down some of these places before, so they took a different approach this time - specifically targeting the owners like suspect Sophie Zhong.

Police say Zhong is well known locally in the shady massage industry and when Action News Anchor Corin Hoggard dug into her history.

Zhong has a 2012 conviction for illegally operating a parlor. Officers arrested Zhong Tuesday after finding her inside one of the parlors where they also spotted a big box of condoms and a very full bank bag.

They also spotted eight so-called masseuses, and identified at least two of them as possible human trafficking victims.

"We know that human trafficking occurs in these massage parlors," Chastain explained. "It's that blended sex trade and labor trade that they're trapped, forced, coerced into it."

Police handed off the possible victims to advocates with the Central Valley Freedom Coalition. The bust interrupted the work day for other businesses in the area, but Action News talked to a couple who said it was well worth it.

"We have a lot of complaints from the patients so I'm just glad this is all settled," neighbor Naomi Rodriguez said.

Police say a sixth massage parlor wasn't offering sex for money, but it was unlicensed so they shut it down too. They're also taking steps to possibly seize the entire strip mall if the owners keep allowing prostitution.

Related Topics:
newsprostitutionfresno police departmentfresnofresno - east central
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