NEWBURYPORT — Affixed between a private math instruction service and a counseling center, the red sign outside the office building at 150 Merrimac St., known as Merrimac Landing, offered clients hot stone Thai massages.
But yesterday afternoon, police raided the business after the female owner offered an undercover police officer more than massages, in fact, sexual favors in return for money.
Huo Huitong, 47, 1234 70th Ave., No. 2, Brooklyn, N.Y., was charged with one count of engaging in sexual conduct for a fee after her arrest. She is expected to be arraigned today at Newburyport District Court. Police were hoping to hold her in custody last night, believing she could be a flight risk.
Inspector Michael Sugrue said Huitong was advertising her sexual services on Craigslist and other sites known to attract clients. A phone number on the red sign matched a phone number spotted on Craigslist, raising the suspicions of police as they continued their investigation.
Shortly before the raid an undercover officer visited the massage parlor after police had been conducting surveillance of the business for more than a week.
“There was an agreement that more than a massage would take place,” City Marshal Thomas Howard said.
Howard, along with Lt. Mark Murray and detectives Sugrue and Christopher McDonald, entered the building shortly after 2 p.m. As they were conducting the raid, police apprehended a man they believe was a client. No charges are expected to be filed against the client, with Howard saying police did not believe he had committed a crime by the time police arrived. He is also expected to aid police as they continue their investigation, Howard added.
“This is unusual, but it’s not completely out of the realm of things,” Howard said.
Underground massage parlors turn up more and more thanks to websites that allow these types of businesses to flourish under the radar and well before other businesses take notice. But Howard said Huitong’s business neighbors grew suspicious as they saw an increase in client traffic.
“Clearly it was illegal,” Howard said.
The building at 150 Merrimac St., located near the intersection with Boardman Street, contains eight professional business offices