Montgomery County Police have shut down a number of spas, including the LA Nails & Spa in Bethesda, for alleged prostitution and human trafficking.
Montgomery County Police executed a search warrant of the store, at 4928 St Elmo Ave., on Thursday morning. Plain-clothes officers took photos and collected evidence. Montgomery County ordered the spa closed for operating without the appropriate license.
Police say its Vice and Intelligence Unit was alerted to an “increased number of suspicious spa advertisements on the Internet and again began receiving resident complaints,” starting in October. In a press release, police indicated the sting was tied to a similar investigation in 2011 and 2012.
Police said the establishments operated operate under the guise of acupressure and massage parlors.
This year, LA Nails & Spa spa changed its name from Pretty Nails & Spa. Most reviews on its Yelp page were critical and a few mentioned suspicious activity going on in back rooms of the store:
…To make matters worse, during my manicure a random unattractive middle aged man walked in. Then without saying a word one of the Asain women working there smiled at him and quickly ushered him into one of the back rooms. It was VERY creepy and odd. I quickly paid and got out of their asap. My friend was equally creeped out by the experience.
…This place is definitely a rub and tug/happy ending place. Multiple older men walked in and out of the salon. None of them spoke to any of the technicians, just a quick nod and they went into a back room. This was almost laughable for me since it was so obvious. …
Police say four business owners were arrested for human trafficking and prostitution and eight establishments have been closed since the 2011 investigation for “providing massage therapy without a license.”
The include Traditional Wellness in Damascus, Green Apple massage in Gaithersburg, Sunshine Day Spa in Gaithersburg, Soothing Care Spa in Gaithersburg and the Massage Center in Gaithersburg. The investigation also nabbed two North Bethesda spas: the Massage Spring Spa (11630 Rockville Pike) and Best Spa (11625 Nebel St.).
Police say other individuals have been charged through civil court by the Department of Permitting Services for violations of use and occupancy permits. Some have also been charged via district court summons for unlicensed massage therapy.
Police said they first noticed the “dramatic increase” in the establishments by seeing them advertised in the adult sections of internet sites such as Backpage.com.
Police also said they got complaints from residents about the businesses before starting the initial investigation in September 2011.