No arrests have been made yet, but Sweetwater County authorities searched a Rock Springs massage parlor Tuesday afternoon for evidence of human sex trafficking.
The Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and Rock Springs Police Department served a search warrant on the massage parlor downtown Tuesday afternoon as part of a “months-long human trafficking investigation,” according to a statement by Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jason Mower.
The investigation has apparently been active for some time.
"Earlier this year, we began investigating the alleged performance of sexual acts at an Asian massage parlor in the 600 block of Broadway in Rock Springs," Mower said.
Asian Massage, the parlor at 617 Broadway St. Suite E in Rock Springs, could not be reached immediately Tuesday afternoon for comment. The parlor is open nightly until 9 p.m., its online profile indicates.
Law enforcement officials believe the masseuses and others working in the parlor are human trafficking victims and are forced or coerced to perform labor, including sex acts. It’s also believed the Rock Springs location is part of a larger network of organized criminal enterprise “possibly operating throughout the region,” says the statement.
Often In Plain Sight
The statement quoted Lt. Michelle Hall, lead detective on the case, saying illicit massage parlors are often hidden in plain sight and don a façade of legitimacy to conceal their criminal activity and avoid law-enforcement detection.
"This is a known issue and growing trend. These businesses operate in every state nationwide. Unfortunately, many of those engaged in commercial sex as part of these types of operations are actually labor and sex trafficking victims," Hall said.
Hall credited a cooperative effort among the sheriff's office, Rock Springs Police Department and local FBI and Homeland Security agents for Tuesday’s search warrant operation.
She also thanked the YWCA of Sweetwater County and the Asian Pacific Development Center of Aurora, Colorado, for their support in providing services to assist trafficking victims as part of the operation.
Mower said that, given the case's complexity, no arrests have been made yet, and the investigation remains active and ongoing.
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact Lt. Hall at 307-922-5331.
‘Sexual Contact’ Still Legal
Rep. Clark Stith, Rock Springs’ Republican delegate to the Wyoming House of Representatives, proposed this year to amend the state’s prostitution laws to ban the purchase of “sexual contact,” but the House did not consider the proposed law change and the bill died.
Currently, state law bans the sale of “sexual intrusion” acts but not “sexual contact,” which could involve stimulating the client’s genitalia with one’s hand.
Selling acts of sexual intrusion is punishable by up to six months in jail and $750. Soliciting sex acts carries the same penalty.
Human trafficking, however, is a felony punishable in Wyoming by no fewer than five years and no more than 50 years in prison and $10,000 in fines if it's a first-degree offense.
If the victim is a minor, the minimum sentence rises to 25 years.
First-degree human trafficking involves someone intentionally or knowingly recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, receiving, providing, obtaining, isolating, maintaining or enticing someone for the purpose of forced labor or servitude, sexual or otherwise.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.