A four-month long investigation lands three Panama City women in jail on prostitution charges. Police say the entire operation was run out of a massage parlor.
The doors at the Green Spa were locked on Wednesday. That's because investigators say the massage parlor was offering much more than massages. The investigation started when police were tipped off by some of the parlor's customers.
"Some people there were soliciting sexual acts for prostitution at that location," said Lieutenant Robert Luther with the Panama City Police Department.
"Undercover officers posed as customers, went in, and were in fact, solicited."
These three women - Songzi Cui, Hua Yue Jin, and Zhen Ji Piao - were booked into the Bay County Jail Monday night, their pictures much different from the ones offered on their parlor's ad on Backpage.com. The women face a slew of charges.
"About 15 to 17 charges in all at this time, some of which include fraudulent information as far as licensing and of course prostitution and deriving support from prostitution," Lt. Luther said.
According to the arrest report, Cui and Ji Piao admitted to practicing massage therapy with fraudulent licenses, admitting that they received answers for the certification exam to memorize. Yue Jin didn't even have a license.
Many call it the world's oldest profession, and here in Panama City, some are finding work. Lt. Luther says the were heading into the peak season for prostitution
"As the tourist industry slows down, with it getting colder, there's not a lot of people perhaps in a different area of town," Luther said. "They come into Panama City, and it seems that's when the complaints may increase."
However, he says he can't remember the last time an operation was run out of a licensed business. Currently, State and Federal agents are looking into several issues, such as the citizenship status of the women...or whether this is part of something more sinister.
"We were concerned that there was human trafficking or human smuggling," Lt. Luther said. As far as we know in this case it's not, but it's something we have to slow down and look into."
Lt. Luther says the investigation is far from over. In fact, investigators are looking into another Green Spa in an undisclosed location for illegal activity.