EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 13, 2013

Police work to narrow client list

By Jill Harmacinski

---- — LAWRENCE — As interest and concern swirled across the Merrimack Valley, police yesterday were still compiling a detailed list of clients from Lori Barron’s alleged Broadway brothel “The Day Spa for Gentlemen.”

Barron, 50, of 20 Riversedge Dr., Salem, N.H., is accused of hiring young women who performed sexual acts on hundreds of men, allegedly including a Methuen police officer, Methuen firefighters, a Haverhill city councilor, area teachers, a doctor, lawyers and court workers, according to police reports filed Tuesday.

The women told police that Barron secretly and illegally taped the sexual trysts in the 7B Broadway location and then used the video footage to blackmail her workers if they stepped out of line or tried to quit.

Young women who worked in the spa provided police with only job descriptions of the men they serviced, not full names. The workers said Barron kept records of her clients, asking them for identification and having a body guard take down their license plate numbers while they were in the spa.

Lawrence police Chief John Romero said yesterday that detectives are still processing evidence, which includes an appointment book with first names only. State police yesterday were also given two computers, an external hard drive and five cell phones to analyze.

Romero said he’s received many calls about Barron’s clients.

“There’s a strong interest in who might be on the list,” he said.

It’s unclear if any of Barron’s clients will face charges, although both Romero and District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett stressed the investigation remains open.

Questioned Tuesday night, all nine Haverhill city councilors denied being one of Barron’s clients.

Methuen fire Chief Steve Buote said he’s aware of the allegations against members of his department but has not yet opened an internal investigation. Without names, Buote said it’s “fruitless to start an investigation ... Right now it’s accusations.”

“And unless somebody is charged with something, there’s really not a lot we can do about it,” Buote said.

Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon echoed similar sentiments. “At this point, I have not been notified that a police officer was involved in any crime,” he said.

Solomon added, “I do not want to act on rumors because I have seen what rumors can do to someone’s career.”

Barron, known to her workers as “Nina,” was arraigned in Lawrence District Court on seven felony counts, including human trafficking, illegal wiretapping, keeping a house of prostitution and photographing an unsuspecting nude person. Bail was set at $30,000, which Barron posted shortly after her arraignment.

According to police records, Barron preyed on needy young women, first employing them as receptionists and then “promoting” them to massage therapists and requiring them to perform manual and oral sex for cash. She paid her workers, including an 18-year-old local high school student, in cash and never processed any tax paperwork. She allegedly advertised the receptionist jobs on Craigslist and posted daily spa specials on Backpage.com, police said.

When clients went to the spa, they were required to place $100 cash in a basket Barron controlled. In order to obtain sexual services, they had to pay another $100, a cut of which was given to the workers, the workers told police. Barron also told the girls she had a connections with both the FBI and Lawrence police. The names of her alleged connections were not included in police reports.

Methuen attorney Thomas Torrisi, who represented Barron when she was arrested in May 2011 and later convicted on a prostitution charge in Salem N.H., said he was falsely labeled as one of Barron’s clients in police reports. Torrisi said his relationship with Barron was purely client/attorney.

Lawrence attorney Tony Ortiz, who represented Barron at Tuesday’s arraignment, said the allegations against her were fueled by disgruntled employees.

Barron was previously convicted on prostitution charges after she and another woman were arrested in Salem, N.H. in an investigation dubbed “Operation Bunny Ranch.” Then the owner of ETEA Weight Loss Spa at 282 Main St., Barron was charged with felony and misdemeanor prostitution. An employee, Susan Choi of Derry, was charged with misdemeanor prostitution.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.