6-month-long prostitution sting ends in arrests from several local spas
BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Human trafficking happens all over the country, but it’s not something you’d expect to happen in Bay County.
“We’re not immune to it. It’s here,” Panama City Police Department Interim Chief Mark Smith.
The Panama City Police Department, Panama City Beach Police Department, Bay County Sheriff’s Office, The FBI, The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, The Department of Health, and The State Attorney’s Office have been investigating this case for half of the year. On Wednesday, officials announced their findings at a news conference.
“Over the past months we have become aware of human trafficking issues that have been taking place inside our cities and county involving massage parlors,” said Smith.
Multiple people are facing prostitution charges at six local spas:
- Da Cozy Spa at 330 W. 23rd St., Unit F
- Panama Beach Spa at 3002-B, W. U.S. 98
- Lili’s Spa and Massage at 11828 Front Beach Rd.
- Oasis Massage and Spa at 17304 Panama City Beach Parkway
- Blossom Massage at 7510 Thomas Dr.
- Joun Spa at 2302 Winona Dr.
“We had folks that were actually going to these looking and seeking a legitimate massage and came out feeling their was human trafficking going on inside the business,” said Smith.
Law enforcement conducted undercover investigations and served several search warrants for the six spas.
“Following these search warrants we have taken into custody numerous individuals,” said Smith.
Smith said owners and management with clear involvement were arrested on several charges. Other people were detained for questioning.
“To determine who are victims of human trafficking and who are the actual folks who need to be criminally charged,” said Smith.
However, he said a large number of these individuals don’t speak English. They’re working in conjunction with the FBI, who brought interpreters to speak their foreign language.
“So we’re having to work with those interpreters and these individuals to figure out what is their involvement in this and how did they get from their country to this country,” said Smith.
He said if they can save at least one person, then it’s worth it.
“We get to shut down these businesses that are illegally operating inside our county, but also at the same time we have the opportunity to possibly remove some of these people from the human trafficking world that they’ve been trapped in,” said Smith.
An effort to bring an end to this problem in the area.
Smith said at this time they can’t give us a set number of arrests because they’re still working to differentiate victims and suspects in this case. He adds everyone taken into custody were women ranging in age, but there were no minors.
Smith said some of the massage parlors were connected.
Copyright 2021 WJHG. All rights reserved.