DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – A two-year human trafficking and prostitution investigation forced the closure of a massage spa in Durham.
Deputies arrested Lian Jin Xu, the operator of the Neon Moon Spa on South Miami Boulevard, on charges of promoting prostitution, conspiracy, and continuing criminal enterprise. Detectives have also obtained arrest warrants for Quan Chun Li and Kwang Koo. Durham Sheriff’s Office spokesperson AnnMarie Breen said additional arrests are pending.
The investigation began in January 2017 after deputies received complaints about possible human trafficking at another spa on South Miami Boulevard. Investigators served a search warrant at that location in July 2018, and a customer said that while he had never received any sexual services there, he had heard that staff at Neon Moon “offered anything you want starting at $60.”
Durham County detectives began to conduct surveillance at Neon Moon the next day. Records kept by the North Carolina Secretary of State list Quan Chun Li as the owner. Law enforcement databases describe Li as “a known Chinese mafia associate trafficking females in from New York.” A Durham County search warrant cites an indictment history for Li which includes running a Continuing Criminal Enterprise for narcotics and human trafficking.
Breen said deputies monitored Neon Moon on nearly a dozen different occasions, and the investigation included interviews with customers and undercover operations. North Carolina has Massage Board investigators. Search warrants reveal that on separate visits, two of the investigators were each individually propositioned by women at the massage parlor who groped the men’s genitals. The officers’ reports state the undercover investigators made excuses to leave, “and asked the price for the extra knowing that would end the session.”
None of the women who worked as masseuses at Neon Moon were arrested or charged in this case. Breen said they are considered victims, and the sheriff’s office is trying to get them assistance rather than criminalize them.
Search warrants said, “it is more than certain that the female workers are having to live in the business overnight as we have witnessed cooking inside the back door early hours of the morning all while not seeing anyone enter the business and no cars being present.”
The landlord changed the locks last week after the arrest of the Lian Jin Xu. Deputies took Xu into custody at her home on April 11, and she remains jailed at the Durham County Detention Center on a $250,000 secured bond. She has no bond for the other felony charges, and human trafficking charges are pending.
One of the investigators, in this case, took part Tuesday and Wednesday in the 2019 North Carolina Human Trafficking Education Seminar, hosted by the Orange County Sheriff and in conjunction with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Human Trafficking Unit.
Carl Wall is the SBI’s Special Agent in Charge of the program, which received a designation from the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017.
“We are in the process of trying to set up a unit to fight human trafficking across the state, and to let the local chiefs and sheriffs know that we’re here as a resource to combat it,” Wall said.
“A lot of people believe it has to be high population to have human trafficking, but that’s not the case. It’s in every aspect of North Carolina. I’ve traveled the state, spoke with a lot of chiefs and sheriffs who don’t realize exactly what it is or where it is, but it is here.”
Speakers included the executive director of the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission, an investigator from the state attorney’s office, a special agent from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Organized Crime Squad, and some non-government organizations.
More than 100 people, most of whom work in law enforcement, attended the workshop. It included the screening of the documentary 8 Days and conversations with the director, Jaco Booyens. He works with anti-trafficking organizations across the country.
“It’s very hard to detect. It’s not like drugs where you can train a canine to sniff and find it. This is human behavior,” Booyens said. “It’s a difficult fight, but it’s a fight we can make huge advancements in.”
He said workshops like the trafficking education seminar are essential to law enforcement. While officers learn about prostitution in the police academy, Booyens said there is a difference between prostitution and sex trafficking.
The owner of a business in the same strip mall as Neon Moon, who asked not to be identified, said he noticed there were never any female customers at the massage parlor. He said people also came at all hours of the day and well into the evening. A Google listing for the spa said it is open until 10 p.m. Another employee nearby said he thought women might have stayed at Neon Moon overnight.
Anti-trafficking advocates said those are signs which should spark suspicion and need to be reported.
“If there’s smoke, there’s fire, so report if you see something like that. If it’s nefarious or irregular behavior, a lot of traffic, or just men show up not women, or you’re thinking someone may be living there, these are the kinds of situation where we ask the public to kind of have your radar up,” Booyens said.
“Self-police to a degree. Law enforcement will tell you they’d rather you report and be wrong than not report. Unfortunately, it goes unreported and then many lives suffer, like you saw in Jupiter,” he said with reference to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Florida.
A February raid of that massage parlor drew national attention. One of the clients charged in that case is Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots in the National Football League.
Special Agent Wall said the Neon Moon Spa case is very similar, with the only difference being the high-profile of people named in the Florida investigation.
The Durham County Sheriff’s Office said its investigations into illegal sexual activity at massage parlors are ongoing. Anyone with information about this case or suspect similar activity should call Durham Crimestoppers at 919-683-1200 or the Durham County Sheriff’s Office Investigations at 919-560-7151. Tips can also be submitted online to the CrimeTip@DurhamSheriff.org email address.
“It’s so much easier to get on the front end of something than someone saying, ‘Yeah it kind of looked suspect last year,’ and now we’re a year later,” Booyens said.
“Maybe some of the people that they were looking for moved. They’ll rotate. They’ll rotate these girls.”
The Neon Moon Spa was housed in the same shopping center as the Durham Police Department District 4 Substation. Officers there joined the investigation once it began, and the Durham Fire Department’s Fire Marshal also assisted through an inspection involving a habitation violation which is against fire code.