Three illicit massage establishments (IMEs) were shut down in February, the first full month of operation for the DOJ’s first Human Trafficking Unit (HTU), Attorney General Jennings announced Thursday.
“These investigations highlight a continuing pattern that we’ve seen time and time again: human trafficking often happens in plain sight,” said Attorney General Jennings. “These were businesses that hundreds of people passed by each day without realizing the abuse that was happening behind their doors. In many cases, the defendants are fly-by-night serial business owners who will set up a new front as soon as one is shut down. This is what we’re up against, and it’s why our state needs to sustain a permanent and concerted campaign against this scourge. I’m grateful to the prosecutors and investigators who helped take down these fronts, and to the policymakers who have fought to put resources behind this fight.”
On February 2, Dream Spa, a Wilmington IME, was closed and the patrons evicted following an internal investigation by the HTU, in partnership with the Division of Professional Regulation, showing that Dream Spa had been operating at that location as an Illicit Massage Establishment (IME) for several years. This work was accomplished with the cooperation of the property’s landlord.
On February 7, Zen Holistic Healing, a Wilmington IME, was closed and the patrons evicted following an internal investigation by the DOJ’s Human Trafficking Unit, in partnership with the Division of Professional regulation and Delaware State Police, showing that Zen Holistic Healing had been operating at that location as an IME since the summer of 2021. This investigation started following complaints made by neighbors in the community and was accomplished with the cooperation of the property’s landlord.
On February 23, members of the Delaware State Police Troop 3 – Major Crimes Unit, in partnership with the FBI and investigators from the Division of Professional Regulation, executed a Search Warrant on Spa Wellness, a Dover IME. This location had been under investigation by DSP and the DOJ’s Human Trafficking Unit since January.
Following the search warrant’s execution, two individuals involved with the operation of the IME were arrested: Cui Ying, 47, was arrested and charged with Felony Promoting Prostitution 3rd Degree, Conspiracy 2nd Degree, Operating an Unlicensed Massage Establishment, and Prostitution. Dung M. Tran, 62, was arrested and charged with Felony Promoting Prostitution 3rd Degree, Conspiracy 2nd Degree, Felony Providing a False Statement to Law Enforcement, and Operating an Unlicensed Massage Establishment. Victim services specialists also helped provide assistance to an employee who was identified as a likely victim of human trafficking.
During the search warrant and subsequent arrests, approximately $7,000 in suspected illicit proceeds were seized as well as two vehicles known to be associated with the operation of the IME. Bail conditions included no contact with the victim as well as prohibition of operating a Massage Establishment in the State of Delaware.
Prior to purchasing the Dover property, Ying was associated with an IME known as New Sky Spa on Concord Pike in New Castle County, which had been shut down through work by DOJ’s Civil Division, including Deputy Attorney General Zoe Plerhoples, in partnership with investigators from the Division of Professional Regulation. Almost immediately after New Sky Spa’s closure, Ying purchased the property that became Spa Wellness and began operating another IME. Dung Tran had previously operated multiple IMEs in the City of Dover, including one at the same address as Spa Wellness.
Deputy Attorneys General Abigail Rodgers, Michael Cooksey, and Caroline Brittingham, as well as paralegal Juliann Neri, were responsible were responsible for the DOJ’s role in the investigation, in partnership with Delaware State Police Detectives Patrick Campbell and Thomas Ford. Aspects of this investigation remain ongoing and prosecutors may consider additional charges depending on its findings. Tran and Ying will be tried at a date to be determined.
The Human Trafficking Unit has worked to identify IMEs statewide and will continue to work with law enforcement partners, the Division of Professional Regulation, and landlords to close those illegal businesses in the months ahead.FROM DELAWARE.GOV