Miami Beach has shut down four massage parlors where police believe women may have been forced into sex work.
Around 6 p.m. Friday, Beach police raided four massage businesses and took eight women into custody for interviews. No arrests had been made late Friday, but some of the women in custody will almost certainly face prostitution charges, said Police Chief Daniel Oates. Investigators are trying to determine whether some are victims of human trafficking.
“Tonight we are evaluating the extent to which they are involved in criminal activity and/or themselves are victims,” Oates said. “We’re very sensitive to victimization element of prostitution, and we have experts who are speaking to those women tonight and offering them all kinds of services and obviously seeking their cooperation in learning more about the larger criminal enterprises.”
Richard Hull, a North Beach community leader and chairman of the citizen police advisory board, was with officers on Friday as they entered businesses. They found mattresses crammed in rooms, stacks of frozen meals in refrigerators and lowered massage beds that looked like they doubled as beds.
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“The sad thing is I realized today is that they were living quarters,” Hull told the Herald. “The girls lived there.”
Friday’s raids marked the culmination of an eight-month undercover investigation that stemmed from Hull and other residents who suspected illegal activity and shared their concerns with Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán, who took the tips to police.
Police are working alongside state prosecutors in the human trafficking unit of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and immigration officials. Also involved in the raid were the Florida Department of Health, Miami Beach Code Enforcement and Sunny Isles Beach police.
These four establishments were closed:
▪ Jee-Jee, 733 Fifth St.
▪ Lu Lu, 7441 Collins Ave.
▪ Shanghai, 1106 Normandy Dr.
▪ Jade, 1020 71st St.
“Based on the gravity of these allegations, I believe it was imperative that these businesses cease operations immediately,” said City Manager Jimmy Morales, who revoked the businesses license for each of the four establishments. “We will not tolerate any sort of illegal operations that present an actual threat to the quality of life and safety of our community.”
Besides the illegal sex activity, the businesses were found to have building, code and fire violations.
“We expected that these locations will remain closed for some time,” Oates said.