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First, a health inspector spotted several suitcases. Then she noticed an unusual stash of clothing, food and bedding. A young woman who was supposed to be a massage therapist spoke little English and seemed unusually nervous. The inspector reported her findings to the police. They would eventually learn that her suspicions were right: The women were not just employees: They were living in the day spa, sleeping on massage tables and cooking meals on hot plates in the back.
Some of them had had their passports confiscated. The sweep led to criminal charges last week against several rich, prominent men, including Robert K. Kraft , the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots; John Havens, former president and chief operating officer of Citigroup; and John Childs, founder of the private equity firm J. Childs Associates. Beyond the lurid celebrity connection, however, lies the wretched story of women who the police believe were brought from China under false promises of new lives and legitimate spa jobs.
Snyder of Martin County, whose office opened the investigation. There were no washing machines. They were sleeping on the massage tables. The women were shuttled from place to place — not only to nearby parlors but also across the state, said Sheriff Snyder.
Sheriff Snyder said he believed at least some of the women were working to pay off debt owed for what it cost to bring them to the United States. Traffickers cycled women in and out of parlors every 10 or 20 days, Sheriff Snyder estimated. Yet making a trafficking case remains difficult, in part because the women who were victims may not want to cooperate with the police. Only one has been talking to deputies, Sheriff Snyder said.
He had lined up about a dozen Mandarin interpreters, but many other women refused to speak and were let go with an offer of assistance. In addition to arresting men ranging in age from their 30s to at least one in his 80s, the police charged several women who appeared to be overseeing the operation with racketeering, money laundering and prostitution.