Authorities shut down 13 Springfield businesses Thursday believed involved in human trafficking. The joint investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Springfield Police Department is part of broader efforts in Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana in attempts to bring down a single trafficking ring.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson, and Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams announced the action in a joint statement.
Hawley tells the Springfield News-Leader that it’s believed there are potentially ties here to Asian organized crime.
“But what we have here is a situation where we believe there’s illegal prostitution and illegal human trafficking going on. These businesses have acted as fronts for a trafficking ring,” says Hawley.
Hawley said his office has sought emergency orders to shut the businesses down. The Asian massage businesses are scattered throughout the city. 16 defendants are named in a lawsuit filed in Greene County Circuit Court.
Hawley says it’s unclear at this time how many potential victims could be caught up in the ring.
According to a news release, many of the businesses advertised on backpage.com and rubmaps.com specifically for massages provided by young Asian females. These websites are known to law enforcement to be used to promote the sex trade.
The search warrants were served at the following locations in Springfield:
Angel Massage Star Plaza, 1774 1/2 S. Grant Ave.
Asian Massage Northeast Plaza, 2005 E. Kearney St.
Shui Massage and Spa 520 W. University, #E
Chi Spa 2971 E. Chestnut Expressway
Golden Massage 4728 South Campbell Avenue #112
Lotus Spa Sunshine Corners, 220 W. Sunshine St.
Massage Best Spa 1550 E. Battlefield Road, #N2
Unnamed Business 2841 S. Fremont Ave
Palm Spa Imperial Plaza, 2902 S. Campbell Ave #E
Peace Massage 3029 E. Sunshine St.
Phoenix Massage 1261 E. Republic Road
Relax Spa Silver Center, 2022 S. Stewart Sunshine
Spa Plaza Towers Center, 1925 S. Glenstone Ave
The news release goes on to encourage citizens to do their part in combating human trafficking, first by recognizing the signs: Is the person disoriented or confused, showing signs of mental or physical abuse, have bruises in various stages of healing, fearful, timid, or submissive, show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
Authorities ask you don’t attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions. You can alert authorities with the Missouri State Highway Patrol at 417-895-6868, Springfield Police Department at 417-864-1810 or report it anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 417-869-TIPS, or P3tips.com.
Follow Scott Harvey on Twitter: @scottksmu