Police continue to investigate suspected sex trafficking at 6 Bellingham massage parlors

Law enforcement agents enter downtown foot massage parlor

FBI agents and Bellingham Police Gang Task Force members enter a downtown foot massage parlor in Bellingham, Wash. on Thursday, June 13, 2019.
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FBI agents and Bellingham Police Gang Task Force members enter a downtown foot massage parlor in Bellingham, Wash. on Thursday, June 13, 2019.

Authorities on Friday were continuing their investigation into suspected sex trafficking at six massage parlors in the city.

Law enforcement served search warrants on the businesses on Thursday, June 13, alleging that they promoted prostitution.

An investigation team led by the Bellingham Police Department and the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force conducted the searches, Police Lt. Claudia Murphy said in a release Thursday night.

No arrests have been made.

The warrants were served on:

Imperial Spa, 1255 Barkley Blvd., suite 105.

Golden Foot Massage parlor, 207 E. Chestnut St.

Cheerful Healthy Massage, 1530 Birchwood Ave. A.

Rub Hub Body & Foot Spa, 4220 Meridian St., suite 104.

Oriental Chinese Foot Spa, 159 W. Kellogg Road.

Lu’s Foot & Spa, 436 W. Bakerview Road, suite 107.

In Washington state and nationally, illicit massage and spa businesses are the top venues for sex trafficking, according to data on the website for the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

FBI agents and members of the Bellingham Police Gang Task Force enter the Golden Foot Massage parlor 207 E. Chestnut St. in Bellingham Thursday. Kie Relyea The Bellingham Herald

The investigation in Bellingham began several weeks ago after police received a number of complaints about suspicious activity at some of the businesses, Murphy said.

Investigators used surveillance and covert contacts at the businesses to gather enough evidence for search warrants, according to Murphy.

What the suspicious activity entailed or what the covert contacts involved wasn’t known Friday.

During their search, investigators took business records, cash and receipts of transactions from the businesses.

Investigators said they will contact people associated with the businesses, including owners and customers, in the coming weeks.

Murphy said employees, all of them adults, were interviewed.

“The primary objective of the interviews was to learn whether force, fraud or coercion was being used to compel the employees into commercial sex acts against their will,” according to the release.

Employees of the spas who wanted or needed it could get help from Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS).

“The Bellingham Police Department works in cooperation with our federal partners on these important investigations because we are committed to ensuring the safety of all our citizens, especially those who may be victims of sex trafficking,” Bellingham Police Chief David Doll said in the release.

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Bellingham Police Department via its tip line at cob.org/tips, or call Officer C. Brewer at 360-778-8652.

Get help

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is confidential, toll-free and available 24/7 in more than 200 languages. Call: 1-888-373-7888. Text: “BeFree” (233733). Chat online at humantraffickinghotline.org.

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS) provides services for those experiencing sexual exploitation in all forms. Call its help line toll free at 877-715-1563 or 360-715-1563. The Bellingham-based organization has employees that speak Russian, Spanish and Mandarin. It also has video translation services for other languages. More at dvsas.org.

Learn more about sex trafficking by going online to humantraffickinghotline.org.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.