Howard County police and the FBI have raided three Howard massage parlors, arresting five women after an eight-month investigation of interstate prostitution.
Thirty-five police officers and more than a dozen federal agents served search warrants around 7:15 p.m. Thursday at the Osaka Express, in the 8900 block of Route 108 in Columbia; the Sun Spa, in the 3200 block of Corporate Court in Ellicott City; and the Lotus Shiatsu Spa, in the 7800 block of Washington Blvd. in Jessup.
"We're looking at the big picture and deciding what the scope of the problem is," said Lt. Jeffrey Spaulding, who heads the Howard County Police Department's vice and narcotics division. moved in as quickly as we could."
Throughout the investigation, county police provided informants with money to enter the spas, ostensibly for massages. According to court documents, the men reported to police experiences that often began with a suggestive massage and ended in sex.
Police charged Anh G. Groton, 39, of the 2000 block of Plymouth Road in Manhattan, Va., and Ki Ok "Sara" Pappas, 40, of the 5700 block of Loraine Ave. in Cleveland with prostitution and solicitation. In addition, Ms. Pappas and Sun Cha Thompson, 38, of the 900 block of Darda Court in Lexington, Ky., were charged with prescription fraud.
According to court records, police saw Ms. Groton, dressed in a yellow minidress, running from a session room when they raided the Osaka Express Thursday night.
Police said that a man who was found lying on a table inside a cubicle told them he had paid $60 for a one-hour massage and $100 more for sex.
Yesterday afternoon, Ms. Groton and Ms. Thompson were released on $5,000 bond each, and Ms. Pappas was released on a $6,500 bond.
Ms. Pappas and Ms. Thompson worked at the Osaka Express, and Ms. Groton worked at the Lotus Shiatsu Spa, according to court documents.
Two other women, charged with solicitation for acts of lewdness, were released early yesterday morning.
Young Ok "Kay" Kim, 39, of the 7700 block of Tiverton Drive in Springfield, Va., and Sun Ok "Connie" Kim, 38, of the 2300 block of E. Bristol Road in Flint, Mich., each posted a bond of $3,500 at 4 a.m. Both worked at the Sun Spa, police said.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service assisted in the operation in case there were language barriers and to verify the citizenship of the women, police said.
The FBI also raided three Howard County homes in search of evidence of interstate prostitution. No arrests were made, but agents confiscated unspecified property, said Andy Manning, spokesman for the FBI's Maryland-Delaware division.
The homes raided are in the 4300 block of Temora Manor Lane in Ellicott City; in the 6200 block of Sutton Court in Elkridge; and in the 5700 block of Stevens Forest Road in Columbia.
Authorities said they began investigating the spas after receiving complaints about suspicious activities in and around the businesses. One person told police of seeing "scantily clad" woman smoking outside one of the spas, and a woman complained that she was turned away from a spa because of her gender, police said.
Police said they did not shut down the spas because not all of the employees were charged with crimes.
Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker denied yesterday any connection between the raids and county legislation he has proposed that would provide for licensing of massage spas and impose restrictions designed to prevent prostitution.
"It had to happen now," Mr. Ecker said of the raids. "It's purely coincidental with the bill."
Last May, Howard police raided the Miami Spa in the 9200 block of U.S. Route 40 in Ellicott City, and in September a Howard judge ordered three women to pay $150 fines and to complete six months of probation on prostitution charges.
Police said they used informants to gain evidence of prostitution at the spa.