Missouri Attorney General Files Four Civil Lawsuits Against Illicit Massage Businesses Operating in Missouri
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, as part of his Office’s Hope Initiative, in a press conference announced four civil lawsuits have been filed against illicit massage businesses operating in Missouri. The four illicit massage businesses that were sued are A Little Massage in Laclede County, Blue Lotus Asian Massage in Cole County, Shangri-La Massage in Jackson County, and Ella’s Asian Massage in Clay County. Additionally, Attorney General Schmitt provided an update on the Hope Initiative, which aims to crack down on illicit massage businesses across the state, and the Lee’s Summit Police Department provided an update on an investigation related to the Hope Initiative.
“Human trafficking cannot and will not be tolerated in the state of Missouri. Unfortunately, traffickers often use the legitimate massage industry as a façade to facilitate trafficking across the state. The good news is, I’m fighting back. Through my groundbreaking, first-of-its kind Hope Initiative, the Attorney General’s Office has already shut down 37 illicit massage businesses, and today filed suit to shut down four more,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “With the filing of these civil lawsuits, we’re continuing into Phase 2 of the Hope Initiative, and my office will continue to collaborate with law enforcement across the state on criminal investigations. With these filings, we’re sending a clear message to traffickers: you are not welcome in the state of Missouri and you will not be able to hide with impunity any longer – we are coming for you.”
Four civil lawsuits, which were filed on Monday, were announced in Tuesday’s press conference. The suits we filed against A Little Massage in Laclede County, Blue Lotus Asian Massage in Cole County, Shangri-La Massage in Jackson County, and Ella’s Asian Massage in Clay County. The aim of the suits is to obtain injunctions and shut the location down.
Through the Hope Initiative, the Attorney General’s Office attempted to contact the landlord for each of the illicit massage businesses to facilitate eviction, and either received no response or the landlord was unhelpful or unwilling to address the issue.
The lawsuits allege that each of the illicit massage businesses violated public nuisance statutes and advertised on websites like SkipTheGames, RubMaps, HarlotHub, RubRatings, iBackPage, and several others, which are used to solicit prostitution. In the Blue Lotus Asian Massage and Ella’s Asian Massage lawsuits, reviews from different message boards were included that describe sex acts preformed on the premises. Additionally, each illicit massage business advertised that they were open late and several had curtains covering the front windows, both hallmarks of an illicit massage businesses.
The petition in the A Little Massage suit can be found here: https://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/a-little-massage-petition-file-stamped.pdf?sfvrsn=42496fa3_2
The petition in the Blue Lotus Asian Massage suit can be found here: https://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/blue-lotus-petition-file-stamped.pdf?sfvrsn=407967a0_2
The petition in the Shangri-La Massage suit can be found here: https://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/shangri-la-filed.pdf?sfvrsn=2f3f72c4_2
The petition in the Ella’s Asian Massage suit can be found here: https://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/ella’s-petition-filed.pdf?sfvrsn=585fab71_2
The Hope Initiative
The Hope Initiative was launched by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt in October of 2020, with an aim to crack down on illicit massage businesses operating in Missouri. Attorney General Schmitt has repeatedly stated that the goal of his office is to make Missouri the most inhospitable state for human trafficking in the union, and the Hope Initiative is another tool the Office is using to accomplish that goal. Additionally, the structure and successes of the Hope Initiative have caught the eye of other state attorneys general and law enforcement, making the Hope Initiative a national model.
Since launch, the Hope Initiative:
- Has identified 83 illicit massage businesses for a statewide “master list”;
- Closed 37 illicit massage businesses down, amounting to 45% of all IMBs that the Office has identified as closed;
- Filed 4 civil lawsuits;
- Led to criminal investigations being opened, which are currently underway;
- Served as a model for 9 states hoping to replicate the Hope Initiative; and
- Increased collaboration and data sharing: state, local and federal law enforcement agencies across the state (and even across state lines) are sharing data, and communicating and collaborating with regulatory agencies, victim advocates, commercial landlords and the AGO. This allows the Office to identify networks and track when businesses close and then try to reorganize and reopen in a new location.
The Hope Initiative will continue to work to shut locations down, file civil suits wherever possible, and work with local police and prosecutors to hold illicit massage businesses criminally accountable.
Lee’s Summit and Swan Spa
During the press conference, a representative from the Lee’s Summit Police Department gave an update on a criminal investigation that the Lee’s Summit Police Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the AG’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force are currently working on.
The Lee’s Summit Police Department and Missouri State Highway Patrol, along with the AG’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, recently executed a search warrant on Swan Spa, an illicit massage business located in Lee’s Summit. A number of items were recovered, and several victims were provided needed medical and care services.
This case is still being investigated, but information from the Attorney General’s Hope Initiative and Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force aided in launching this investigation.
Video from the Hope Initiative’s launch in October 2020 can be found here: https://youtu.be/SJK6BUWj74g