ANDOVER — The arrest of a woman on prostitution charges for running an illicit massage parlor in Ballardvale last week is one of many similar busts police have been making in the Merrimack Valley and elsewhere across the state and country.
Operating as “Qui’s Body Work,” Yu Yun Chen, 45, of Quincy, was charged with sexual conduct for a fee and operating an unlicensed massage business. She was arrested around 5 p.m. on June 6 after police conducted a sting operation at 195 Andover St., Unit 2.
According to a report on the incident, police had received tips from employees in an adjacent business that men had been entering Qui’s Body Work for half-hour periods and then leaving.
An employee also reported that while throwing trash out at a Dumpster in the rear of the property, “a woman was observed caressing a male’s genitals in plain view through a window,” according to a report filed in Lawrence District Court by Andover Patrolman Michael Lane.
Another officer had gotten a letter tipping police off to the presence of the business, while another officer had seen an ad on an adult-oriented website offering “Amazing Chinese Body Work in Andover, MA.”
The ad gave the same street address and phone number used for Qui’s Body Work. According to the ad, prices were quoted as $40 for 30 minutes, $60 for 60 minutes and $100 for 60 minutes and “four hands.”
The following day, June 6, police arranged for an officer to enter the business for a massage. After about a 30-minute massage, Chen attempted to “touch his genital area” and she was placed under arrest, according to the police report. She hasn’t been arraigned yet because Lawrence District Court has been unable to find an interpreter who knows Mandarin. Her next court date is scheduled for June 24.
It may not be the first time Chen has been in trouble for this kind of activity.
According to an investigator with the state Department of Industrial Accidents, as well as Capt. Patrick Ambrose of the Danvers Police Department, she ran a similar operation near the Liberty Tree Mall that was shut down about two months ago.
She moved to the Andover location about six weeks ago.
Ambrose said Danvers has had “five or six of these over the last couple of years.”
He added, “They’re all over the place. We’re not unique.”
In the Danvers case, Ambrose said the Department of Industrial Accidents was called in because agents have the authority to shut down businesses involved in criminal activity.
Instead of prosecuting Chen, Danvers police simply shut the business down.
“You have to prove the prostitution,” he said. “You have to get somebody in there, and have it offered as a service. Sometimes, time-wise and resource-wise, we use somebody like the Department of Industrial Accidents to come in and shut them down administratively. They usually just move along. Even if you do charge them with prostitution, they open up in another community.”
He said in a couple of cases, we “have had people shut down in one location and then pop up in another location across town.”
The bust is the first of its kind in Andover that police can remember, according to Lt. John Pathiakis, although the hotels along I-93 have always attracted prostitutes and their clients.
“That’s been a problem for years,” he said. “They set up meetings there, get a room, advertise on some of the sites and magazines.”
While illicit massage parlors may be new to Andover, they aren’t new in the Merrimack Valley.
In neighboring North Andover, for example, two women were arrested following a sting operation last month.
Jianfang Liu, 49, and Rongxiu Ye, 64, both of Flushing, N.Y., were arrested May 28 and charged with offering sexual conduct for a fee and giving massages without being licensed. An undercover officer visited the Ocean Spa, 451 Andover St., and Asian Bodyworks, 14 Main St., and asked for a massage, according to a report filed with Lawrence District Court by Detective Daniel Cronin.
During both visits, the undercover investigator was offered sexual conduct in exchange for money, according to Cronin’s report. Officers entered the two establishments and arrested the women shortly after the alleged offers, police said.
Lt. Charles Gray said that not much is known about the women, because a language barrier prevented them from talking to investigators after their arrest. As a result, the investigation is at somewhat of a standstill.
“We are looking at some potential other angles,” he said, adding “we don’t believe they were working on their own. Other people rented their facility.”
He said it doesn’t appear that the women arrested in North Andover had any relation to the Andover case, however.
Other communities have also reported similar incidents recently.
According to media reports, Needham police arrested a woman in mid-May for prostitution after she allegedly offered sexual favors out of a business called Jojo’s Asian Body Works. After an undercover operation, police arrested Yuxiu Tang, 44, of 8 Casey Ave. C in Edison, N.J., and charged her with engaging in sexual conduct for a fee.
In Worcester, two women pleaded guilty to running a house of prostitution based on charges filed in 2011. According to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, Lan Yun Ma, 43, and Wei Ma, 23, both of Flushing, N.Y., were each placed on probation for three years after entering a guilty plea in Worcester Superior Court to a charge of solicitation for prostitution.
The charges to which the women pleaded guilty had been amended from trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, a felony carrying a minimum mandatory sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment.
It is a little unclear if there is a recent increase in cases or if ongoing cases are getting more attention.
Lt. Gray of North Andover said many places continue to operate because they are “flying under the radar. There may be some that are in existence as we speak. The only way we find out about them is when we get a report from a concerned citizen, or luck, so that we are made aware of them. We close them down, work with the building department and the Department of Industrial Accidents, and together we eradicate the problem.”
He said part of the reason for a proliferation of such businesses is the Internet.
“There are websites out there that advertise for these kinds of services to an underground community that will seek them out and patronize these places,” he said.
Ambrose, of Danvers, agreed that law enforcement agencies working together can often find and shut down these illegal businesses.
“Our detectives have had many phone calls from other communities asking, ‘Are you familiar with so-and-so,’” he said.
He added that it’s difficult for landlords to screen these businesses because they appear to be legal.
“They open up under completely legitimate terms,” Ambrose said. “They present themselves to the landlord, have the cash to pay the rent, and as long as they don’t cause problems to landlord, the landlord doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
Similar cases have also been reported in Vermont, New York, Florida, New Jersey, Iowa and many other places.