AP NEWS

Florida Sheriff: Spa Workers Are Sex-trafficking Victims

February 24, 2019

By Alexi Cohan and Sally Apgar

Boston Herald

JUPITER, Fla. -- The “zombie-like” victims in the South Florida spa sex case in which Patriots owner Robert Kraft is entangled could be part of a $20 million human-trafficking ring with ties to China where “the men are the monsters,” a local sheriff says.

One spa worker is currently in protective custody while others are being helped and none, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said, will be prosecuted. He said he is willing help to protect the women from deportation, as their cooperation is crucial.

“Over my dead body will any of these women be prosecuted,” said Snyder, adding that the women are currently undergoing mental and physical examinations at local treatment facilities.

Snyder told the Herald he is investigating other leads in the case including a $20 million money trail to China, connections in New York and videos of men with Asian women meeting at Palm Beach International Airport who were later seen at massage parlors.

As previously reported in the Herald, more than 170 people are facing charges in a South Florida human trafficking and prostitution sweep.

Ninety percent of the men who entered the illicit day spas were there for sex, according to Snyder. “The men are the monsters in this case ... I think they should all get the max sentence.”

Snyder walked the Herald through the case, which he said started with a tip from the health department detailing reports of women who appeared to be living at the spas.

“I made the decision at the very beginning that we would actually go after the traffickers,” said Snyder, “I had every intention of treating the women as victims.” He said another 12 to 15 potential victims are in Martin County.

Snyder said it was clear the women were trafficked, hoping to silence talk of the possibility they were consensual sex workers. “These women are treated as human chattel and they are moved around.

“Any notion out there that this is some kind of local prostitution or that these women are willing participants is categorically untrue,” said Snyder.

Fletcher Peacock, a South Florida federal assistant public defender, said that the legal determination of sex trafficking versus consensual prostitution comes down to the use of force or coercion.

“If there is any kind of solicitation, facilitation or incentive offered by a pimp such as money or drugs or housing or whatever, that qualifies as sex trafficking. With an adult, there has to be the element of force or intimidation,” said Peacock.

Snyder is trying to locate more victims by searching massage therapist licenses, many of which he said were fraudulent.

“Full, unprotected sex,” was happening in the spas according to Snyder, not just “happy endings.”

Snyder said entering the spas and seeing the victims was shocking.

“They were almost in a zombie-like appearance, it’s really sad. Their lives are ruined,” said Snyder. The women were performing sexual acts on a minimum of eight johns a day, according to Snyder, with no breaks or days off.

“There are men that went in there and utilized these women’s services that would not have allowed their dog to be in such wretched conditions,” said Snyder.

Snyder puts more blame on the johns than on the traffickers. “This was an onerous and malevolent enterprise ... I believe that the vast majority of men knew what they were doing.”

Other dangers lie ahead for the trafficking victims. “The risk is that barring a miracle, they will end up back in the trafficking trade,” said Snyder.

In the past two days, Jupiter residents have repeatedly expressed shock at how the alleged sex trafficking operation functioned in open view. There were few telltale signs.

Even the day after the public revelation of the operation, the victims seem sequestered away in various county jails.

The Jupiter Police Department is closed down, gone are the giant television crew trucks and blaring lights that crowded the parking lot the day before.

Jupiter Police Department, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Florida and the office of Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg all declined to share any further information regarding the victims when contacted by the Herald.