A massage parlor on West Main Street in Kent was among at least 16 across Northeast Ohio raided Wednesday by state and federal authorities as part of a long-term prostitution investigation.
Police executed search warrants at Reflex Massage Wednesday afternoon as part of a wide-ranging commercial prostitution investigation that started in 2017 and spanned seven counties.
At least 13 businesses throughout the region — including operations in Wooster and Medina — and three residences in Brunswick were among the initial locations where warrants were executed Wednesday, said Greg A. Croft, special agent in charge with the Ohio Investigative Unit of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. An undisclosed residence in Kent also was searched as part of the investigation, and more locations could be targeted.
The raids came after the Cuyahoga County Grand Jury indicted six people on charges of promoting prostitution. Among those indicted: Jia Yue Dong, 42, Cui Rong Chen, 44, Fei Wang, 41, and Yan Wang, 41, all of Brunswick; Chengqiang Yu, 48, of North Royalton; and Robert Swartz, 50, of Copley.
The Medina County Grand Jury also indicted Yulian Fu, 50, of North Royalton, on the same charge.
Croft said the operation involved a website where clients were paid members and logged in share information on sexual services allegedly provided at the massage parlors.
"I’ve been a vice cop for 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of this," he said.
He noted the businesses operated in plain sight; one was located next to a daycare center.
Croft said the investigation started in Perkins Township outside Sandusky following a request by police there in 2017. Police had made arrests for prostitution there in 2016, only to have the business reopen several days later.
"We could have been in and done with this investigation in 30 days if we had wanted to, but we went a different route. We tried to take the head off the snake, so to speak," he said.
The investigation spread to Brunswick, where four of seven men indicted last week live.
Local business owners said they thought something seedy was going on after Reflex Massage opened on West Main Street a few years ago, just three doors down in the same building as the Kent Parks and Recreation Department’s Fitness Center.
"I just knew that more than massages was going on over there," said Michael Longitano, who owns the West Main Street restaurant next door to Reflex Massage. "Just by the traffic and life in general, I mean, it’s not too tough to figure out."
Longitano and other business owners in the area said much of the traffic took place in the evenings, when almost exclusively male clientele would park around the side or in back of the building, or across the street. Only two or three women appeared to work at the establishment, they said.
One of the local business owners, who asked not to be named, said he thought the fact that the business was open from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with so few workers, appeared to be a sign of suspicious activity there.
Croft said there were one to four women working at each location.
The women, many of whom do not speak English, are being treated as witnesses at this point, Croft said. Some of the women are U.S. citizens whose first language is not English; others are from Asian counties.
No evidence of human trafficking has been discovered at this time, Croft said.
"The problem is we have a major language barrier and we’re working through our interpreters on that," he said, adding victims services are available if necessary.
The search warrants were executed at the following locations:
JC Relaxing, Inc., also known as Relax Massage, 3321 Center Road, Brunswick.
Hua Nan Massage (formerly SJ Relax, Inc.), 4004 Milan Road, Unit A, Perkins Township.
Robust Asian Massage, LLC, 16360 Pearl Road, Strongsville.
SC Relax, Inc., 14403 Pearl Road, Strongsville.
Sunny H. Reflex, Inc., 7914 Broadview Road, Broadview Heights.
Relax, Inc., 1211 W. Main St., Kent.
Lucky Jade LLC., 2747 Medina Road, Medina.
Ming Relax, Inc., 4000 Oberlin Ave., Unit 2, Lorain.
Bamboo Relaxing Massage, Inc., 2522 Cleveland Road, Unit A; Wooster.
W&D Relax, Inc.,1523 Lexington Ave., Unit A, Mansfield.
Sun GR Reflect, Inc., 17456 Lorain Ave., Unit A, Cleveland.
Sun GR Reflect, Inc., 26761 Royalton Road, Columbia Station.
Posh Massage, Inc., 37300 Detroit Road, Avon
1299 Old Eagle Drive #M5, Brunswick
1287 Old Eagle Drive # 109, Brunswick
411 Plymouth Court, Brunswick.
Participating agencies involved in the investigation include: Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office; United States Attorney’s Office; United States Secret Service; Federal Bureau of Investigation; United States Board Patrol; United States Homeland Security Investigations; United States Internal Revenue Service; Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force; United States Marshal’s Office; Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation; Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation; Ohio Medical Board; Ohio State Highway Patrol; Lorain County Sheriff’s Office; Brunswick, Perkins Township, Lorain, Cleveland, Mansfield, Kent, Wooster and Medina Township police departments. Interpreters from the FBI and the Secret Service assisted with the search warrants. Victim service organizations were on scene.
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-322-5892, or firstname.lastname@example.org.