Police investigating human trafficking, sexual solicitation at massage businesses in St. Joseph County
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - Police are investigating several massage businesses for allegedly running human trafficking and sexual solicitation operations out of their stores. That’s after concerned residents tipped off police.
On Monday afternoon, the St. Joseph County Police Dept., with assistance from Indiana State Police, the Indiana Dept. of Revenue, and other law enforcement agencies, executed search warrants at four massage business locations and one residence—all within St. Joseph County.
The warrants were served at massage parlors in the 400 block of Hickory Road in South Bend, 50800 block of State Road 933 N. in South Bend, the 12600 block of State Road 23 in Granger, and 2600 block S. Michigan Street in South Bend. The residence that was searched is on Buckhorn Drive in South Bend. Police say all properties are owned or operated by the same individual.
As part of Monday’s 14-hour search, investigators seized dozens of boxes totaling thousands of pages of financial records. Investigators interviewed 9 business customers and 12 suspected female victims, along with business owners and managers. Police also seized cash from the five locations totaling over $88,000.
Multiple women were living inside each business location. Interviews of the women were conducted by a Chinese Mandarin interpreter. Through the interpreter, investigators were able to confirm that at least some of the women had been trafficked and were being held and forced to work against their will.
Multiple women also confirmed that sexual activity had occurred with customers. Currently, at least two women requested help, have been removed from the business location, are being provided aide, and will be assisted returning to their country of origin.
“Happy to the fact that we have two victims at least cooperating, so we’re hoping because of that information that’ll be helpful to our investigation, because oftentimes, we don’t get that cooperation, because victims are traumatized because of what’s going on. They’re afraid to talk because of the situations that they’re in. So we are at least fortunate to have some cooperation at this point,” explained Sheriff William Redman.
Unable to elaborate on the length of the investigation, Redman he’s unsurprised a suspected human trafficking case happened locally.
“We know that there is some obvious issues with human trafficking throughout this country. And I don’t think that we’re immune to that here in St. Joe County,” he said.
Redman said St. Joseph County Police recently met with federal prosecutors and federal agencies about potentially forming a human trafficking task force. He added that county commissioners have approved SJCPD to proceed with federal grant requests.
“We’re taking those forward steps to be more proactive in our community, to help educate our community members and our officers on what to look for, and then get - put a halt to that human trafficking and then get help to those individuals that are in those unfortunate situations,” Redman said.
The massage parlors in question are currently closed.
At this time, no arrests have been made, but the investigation remains ongoing.
Redman said additional search warrants were executed on Tuesday.
Stay with 16 News Now as we continue to follow this developing story both on-air and online.
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