SEATTLE - It’s a non-descript storefront at the corner of 15th Ave and Beacon Ave S, but police say the people who went there for sex knew the place as the “Magic Touch.”
Police say the Beacon Hill massage parlor was one of the first on their radar after tips came in from community members.
“It was a lot of men that were going in and out of the location. They were there for a very short amount of time,” Capt. Mike Edwards with Seattle Police said.
When investigators looked into leads one case ballooned into nearly a dozen illicit operations; a criminal network of sites selling sex, many of them located in the Chinatown-International District.
“The traffic was extreme in all of them, it was a very large amount of money going through these places on a daily basis,” Edwards said.
Twenty-six women police say were freed after the raid.
“These victims were lured to the United States with promises of legal employment and making money and bettering their lives,” Deputy Chief Mark Garth Green said.
Instead, detectives say the women were living in deplorable conditions forced into prostitution up to 20 hours a day.
“These women were working on these sites, working 14 to 20 hours a day 7 days a week,” Garth Green said.
Yuko Harrison works next door. Harrison says the place with no name popped up overnight several years ago.
“Where did this come from just one night,” Harrison said.
And every morning she would see the same activity.
“Older Chinese guys they drop off women, just right here different women come and go,” Harrison said.
Harrison says she reported the suspicious activity to police several years ago and wondered why nothing happened.
Police say the investigation became complex when they realized it was a criminal network with ties to hubs in New York and California.
“We were a little bit surprised on how it was organized,” Edwards said.
Edwards says the only way they were going to make a difference was to take down all the operators.
After 3 years of undercover work, Seattle Police with the help of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security raided 11 massage parlors at the same time last week. Detectives say it was a big, coordinated effort with many parties involved, including linguists.
So far six people have been charged, all Chinese nationals. Five owners or operators were arrested last week in the raid. Police say one suspect is still on the loose.
On Friday, Harrison walked over to verify the closure for herself.
“This morning we were celebrating. Yes, finally it’s gone,” Harrison said.
The 26 women are now working with local service providers to get medical, food and living arrangements.
Police say the victims range from 20 years old to 60 years old.
Detectives say there still could be more developments down the line from Operation Emerald Triangle.