FBI: Reports of ‘underaged’ massage parlor workers led to probe linked to Western Pa. | TribLIVE.com

FBI: Reports of ‘underaged’ massage parlor workers led to probe linked to Western Pa.

Paul Peirce
Renatta Signorini | Tribune-Review
State police gather Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, outside the entrance to Massage 10 along Route 30 in Hempfield. A Florida man, David Williams, is accused of human trafficking in connection with the operation of multiple massage parlors in Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
David C. Williams, 41, of Pensacola, Florida.

A federal investigation that culminated in the arrest of a Florida man accused of operating a human trafficking ring through massage parlors from the Sunshine State to Pennsylvania, including five in Western Pennsylvania, began in 2017 after complaints made to a national hotline, according to court documents.

David C. Williams, 41, of Pensacola, Fla., was arrested and charged last week by U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe of the Northern District of Florida with using interstate facilities for purposes of racketeering, conspiracy to commit money laundering and the harboring of illegal aliens for commercial advantage or private financial gain.

Agents from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, Pennsylvania State Police and the Pittsburgh FBI on Thursday searched places in Turtle Creek, Carnegie, Hempfield, Bridgeville and Erie as part of the investigation into the organization’s operations in Pennsylvania.

Agents in Florida searched places in Pensacola, Gulf Breeze and Gainesville.

Although federal investigators sealed documents related to the case and ongoing investigation, Florida FBI agent John W. Canning on Monday filed a 36-page, heavily redacted sworn statement outlining some details of the probe and how the Pennsylvania business connections to Williams were discovered. Canning filed the document before Williams was scheduled to appear Tuesday in a Pensacola federal court.

Williams waived his scheduled detention hearing Tuesday, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Hope T. Cannon scheduled a status conference on the case Aug. 28, according to court dockets.

Keefe alleges in the three-count criminal complaint that Williams exploited undocumented women and offered sexual acts for money at his massage parlors.

The FBI received two anonymous tips through the National Human Trafficking Hotline that indicated two Florida massage parlors were using underage females and offering sex acts in July 2017, Canning reported.

“During the course of the investigation, (Canning) discovered a parallel investigation was being conducted by the FBI Pittsburgh Division,” Canning wrote.

Catherine Policicchio, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh FBI office, declined to comment. She referred inquiries to Keefe’s office.

“The FBI does not comment on ongoing investigations,” she said.

During a routine prostitution detail Pittsburgh agents conducted at Thai Massage in Carnegie in 2016, an arrest was made after an agent was offered a sexual act in exchange for money, Canning disclosed in court filings.

“The location was associated with (name redacted) and Williams via records and evidence obtained pursuant to a federal search that was conducted on the Google account of Williams,” according to the court filing.

“During the execution of the arrest, none of the Asian females at the business possessed any physical identification on their person, but rather produced pictures of identification on their respective cellphones. All of the Asian females were living in the rooms at the business in which they performed massages. … Luggage and large amounts of cash were also located in the closets,” Canning wrote of the Carnegie bust.

Canning noted that in 2018, the FBI seized Backpage.com and affiliated websites as part of an ongoing criminal investigation that the site was used to facilitate prostitution and money laundering. It was discovered that 6,827 advertisements associated with multiple locations in Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia connected to Williams and the unnamed business associate, he reported.

“The advertisements purchased by Williams and (redacted name) totaled $63,952,” Canning reported.

A search of his Google account and American Express card linked Williams to 24 airline tickets for over a dozen Asian females between April and October 2017, according to court documents. Canning noted that most of the tickets purchased during that period had flights originating from New York City-area airports with mostly Florida destinations.

Parlors searched in Pennsylvania were Massage 10 in Hempfield, Ci Ci Wellness in Turtle Creek, Thai Massage in Carnegie and Thai Massage in Bridgeville. Agents also searched 1407 Peninsula Massage in Erie.

In March, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office announced the arrest of four people on charges of prostitution and human trafficking at five Monroeville and Murrysville businesses. A statewide grand jury found that young women working at the parlors were part of a human trafficking ring forced to perform sex acts.

Hui Xu, 44, of Mt. Pleasant owned and operated four Tokyo Massage parlors alleged to be involved in prostitution, according to the grand jury.

Others accused of participating in the operation are Chang Yu Chen, 51, of Monroeville, who was described as a handyman and manager at the parlors; Huicun Wei, 47, of Flushing, N.Y., whom Shapiro and state police identified as the owner and manager at Judy’s Oriental Massage Parlor in Murrysville; and Robert Delano Yerick, 83, of Delmont, who was described as an administrator and handyman.

They are awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy, corrupt organizations, trafficking in individuals, prostitution and dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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