Action News Investigation: Web of alleged local prostitution dens

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If you think human trafficking, massage parlors and prostitution are limited to urban areas, you would be mistaken. (WPVI)

If you think human trafficking, massage parlors and prostitution are limited to urban areas, you would be mistaken.

Lunchtime two weeks ago, Lower Merion Police moved in on a nondescript building, serving a warrant investigating a suspected prostitution operation. The Rock Hill Road establishment in Bala goes by the name Therapy Zone.

"We've had it under surveillance for a few days, and a number of things are occurring here consistent with prostitution," said Sergeant Gavin Goschinski.

Lower Merion Police say those things would be security cameras, a lack of formal advertising and secure exterior doors where clients need to be buzzed in.

"We encountered one female inside the establishment. She's a Russian citizen. We were taking her in for interviews and to determine if she needs to be connected to services relative to human trafficking," said Goschinski.

Action News has also been investigating Therapy Zone and similar suburban businesses. Apparently finding a massage parlor with sexual services isn't very difficult. We found a website which claims to locate massage parlors that engage in prostitution.

For a small fee, you can read reviews that include the names of the women, sexual favors offered and price. The site claims there are more than 230 erotic massage parlors all over the tri-state area, including over 80 in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia police detectives Ashley Capaldi and Kate Gordon are part of the department's new Human Trafficking Unit. They say the women working in the massage parlors are often the victims of human trafficking, who come to the US heavily in debt and are forced into prostitution.

"You said it cost $70, 80, 90,000 for me to come here, and I'm supposed to be trying to support my family at home and here, and it's virtually impossible to ever break that cycle," said Gordon.

"Until now, no one is ever coming for the person who owns the house, who runs the house," said Capaldi.

According to court records, Lower Merion Police questioned several so-called "Johns" who left Therapy Zone. The "Johns" allegedly admitted to receiving sexual favors and told police during initial visits, they were asked about what sexual favors they wanted, given a price and assigned a number for booking appointments.

Police say they watched as women of Therapy Zone would discard condoms in the trash cans of other businesses.

"Our surveillance found the women who open and operate the business are dropped off a door or two away and that they come in, they operate during the day," said Goschinski.

Investigators across the region say putting erotic massage parlors out of business is tough.

It's supply and demand.

They close one parlor, another opens down the road in another name.

In Bala no one's been charged yet. They continue to investigate allegations of prostitution and human trafficking.

"This is a brick and mortar operation with a significant investment. We hope to disrupt the organization today, and then follow-up with it and see where money is traveling, who owns it and that sort of thing," said Goschinski.

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Related Topics:
newspennsylvania newsAction News InvestigationraidprostitutionLower Merion Township
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