Police still haven’t said how they tricked two women out of a Jupiter day spa to secretly set up surveillance cameras.
But records released Monday show it was referred to as a “tactical ruse” to get them to step outside of the spa that authorities believed was actually a brothel.
While the women stood outside in the Orchids of Asia Day Spa parking lot, three cops discreetly hid the cameras inside the lobby and four treatment rooms so they could watch — in real time — the male clients paying for sexual favors, according to the search warrants.
As they waited, two more women showed up. One of the women, Hua Zhang, told police she lived across the street and “could see what was occurring inside the spa on her cell phone,” which let cops know she had her own cameras set up.
Police seized the cameras and equipment when they were inside, according to records, since there would be probable cause to believe it captured evidence of a crime.
The two women who would later arrive as the sting was underway have since been charged with felonies, and nine Bank of America accounts of the women — Hua Zhang and Lei Wang — have been frozen, according to records.
Police sought search warrants for their safety deposit boxes in case illegally obtained money would be hidden so as not to pay taxes, according to documents. Authorities have seized $140,000 in cash, according to records.
Zhang’s attorney, Tama Kudman, said Zhang already has pleaded not guilty and waived her arraignment on 29 charges.
Zhang is on house arrest with a GPS ankle monitor at a family home in Hobe Sound, in Martin County, under the conditions of a $278,000 bond. Her residence is in Winter Garden. A legal resident of the United States, she is charged with a third-degree felony called deriving support from prostitution.
Zhang also has been charged with 26 misdemeanors called soliciting another to commit prostitution, one misdemeanor count renting space to be used for prostitution and one misdemeanor count of maintaining a house for prostitution.
Wang, of Hobe Sound, has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody. Circuit Judge Dina Keever has set a bond of $256,000 and Wang would be required to stay on house arrest pending the resolution of her case. Like Zhang, Wang has been ordered not to work in any day spa or salon or in the massage industry.
Besides her bank account and safe deposit box, Wang, 45, the manager of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, has had her house and Lexus all seized by the government, according to her attorney, Paul Petruzzi.
Even after the business’s president, Zhang, 58, was charged Feb. 19, Jupiter police continued to investigate her, records show. Detectives on Feb. 26 obtained a warrant for one of her bank accounts at Wells Fargo, according to court records.
On Feb. 21 and Feb, 26, police obtained warrants to search two Bank of America accounts belonging to Mingbi Shen, 58. She has not been charged in the case, but in Zhang’s arrest records, Shen is listed as a spa worker who performed sex acts on several of the parlor’s several clients.
Attorney Kudman said she anticipates the legality of the warrants would come under attack not only in her client’s case, but by the men who were arrested in the parlor bust.
While not commenting on the specifics behind Zhang’s arrest, Kudman said her client appears to have become a victim of cultural stereotyping and a desire by authorities to use “an awfully big paint brush” to set up arrests based on assumptions.
“In effect, they are saying every Asian massage parlor is part of a sex trafficking ring and that’s outrageous,” Kudman told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “They are making assumptions based on a particular storyline and not taking the time to look at the particular facts about the individual defendants in these cases.”
The investigation began in October when detectives from the Martin County Sheriff’s Office were investigating prostitution at spas — including the Sequoia Apple Day Spa in Hobe Sound — and told Jupiter police one of the businesses was in their jurisdiction. In November, detectives began their investigation, starting with finding online reviews indicating men could go there for sex, and then outside surveillance watching only men — including a golf cart party of eight — come and go. The investigation also entailed pulling over for traffic violations after they left the spa and having them confess to what went on inside, as well as sorting through the trash for evidence.
Police said 26 men paid Zhang or Wang for them or their employees to perform sex acts.
The most famous name caught up in the sex sting is Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots football team, who is being charged with a misdemeanor.
Defense attorneys have blasted police use of the “delayed notice” warrants, otherwise known as “sneak and peak” as an unlawful tactic even though prosecutors have said they are investigating the case as a possible human trafficking.
Criminal defense lawyer Eric Schwartzreich is representing one of the men arrested in Martin County; Broward Fire Capt. Douglas Watler, who he said did not know about illegal activity that went on inside the spas.
That type of warrant was intended by Congress to combat terrorism, he argues.
“Considering that the masseuses and massage parlor owners and patrons were probably not planning to blow up planes in the sky or launch an attack at a concert, using these types of warrants in this case without even exhausting traditional law enforcement surveillance tactics is dangerous,” he said.
“The Fourth Amendment prohibits unlawful searches and seizures, people disrobe in massage parlors … for legitimate purposes, their privacy rights should ensure that they are not being spied on by the government. If human trafficking was a concern, how could the police watch these women be victimized and not stop it right away? They claim the women were being victimized, but rather then put an immediate stop to the victimization, they watch it, like voyeurs?”