Florida man admits Western Pa. massage parlors fronted prostitution
A Florida man who operated five Asian massage parlors in Western Pennsylvania and others in Florida and Virginia could be sentenced to more than 30 years in prison early next year after pleading guilty to racketeering, money laundering, transporting women for prostitution and harboring illegal aliens for commercial purposes.
U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers accepted the guilty plea from David C. Williams, 41, last week in the federal courthouse in Pensacola, Fla., according to court dockets. This week, Rodgers formally scheduled his sentencing for Feb. 7.
Williams was arrested by the FBI in August during a nearly three-year probe into the operation of multiple Asian massage parlors in Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Authorities launched the investigation in 2017 after complaints were made to a national human trafficking hotline, according to court documents.
In August, agents from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, Pennsylvania State Police and the Pittsburgh FBI executed warrants at Williams’ massage parlors in Turtle Creek, Carnegie, Hempfield, Bridgeville and Erie as part of the investigation. At the same time, agents searched parlors owned by Williams in Pensacola, Gulf Breeze and Gainesville, Fla., and in Fredericksburg, Va.
U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe of the Northern District of Florida praised the investigation in a news release.
“Human trafficking is high on the list of the most heinous crimes because its perpetrators treat people as property to be abused and monetized. Consequently, this office, and all of our law enforcement partners, will be vigilant and diligent in the prevention, pursuit, prosecution, and punishment of human trafficking,” Keefe said.
During his guilty plea, Williams admitted operating Asian massage parlors that employed Chinese women illegally present in the United States who were offering sex acts at the parlors for money.
During his plea, Williams admitted using the now defunct website “Backpage.com” to run tens of thousands of dollars worth of advertisements to promote his businesses.
Records obtained from financial institutions and airlines confirmed Williams paid for travel of the Chinese women throughout the U.S. and particularly to locations where he maintained the illicit massage parlors, Keefe said.
Many of the women who Williams employed were trafficked from Flushing, N.Y, according to the court documents.
The records from financial institutions revealed Williams and his conspirators laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars through bank accounts that were opened in others’ names in an effort to distance Williams from the illegal activity.
Williams’ attorney, Donald M. Sheehan of Pensacola, declined to comment on the plea agreement Friday.
Keefe said Williams faces up to 10 years imprisonment on charges related to transporting women for purposes of prostitution and harboring them for financial gain. He also faces up to five years imprisonment for racketeering and up to 20 additional years imprisonment for engaging in a money laundering conspiracy.
According to court documents, he could be fined up to $1 million.
On Monday, Keefe’s office filed a motion that Williams forfeit $125,000 in cash that was seized from his massage parlor locations and related bank accounts during the investigation, according to court dockets.
Rodgers granted the motion Tuesday.
“Tracing money obtained as the result of criminal acts is the specialty of IRS Criminal Investigation agents, and to be able to do so in the aid of victims of human trafficking is additionally rewarding,” said Marry Hammond, special agent in charge of the IRS criminal investigation unit’s Tampa, Fla., field office.
“Criminal enterprises such as this one are a blight in the communities in which they operate,” she said.
“This criminal was profiting off human lives,” said federal Homeland Security Investigator K. Jim Phillips in Jacksonville, Fla.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .