On the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 2, Westerville police searched an “Asian massage” parlor and reportedly detained two individuals, according to a press release from the city.
Lt. Charles Chandler of the Westerville Division of Police said in an interview with local media that the search of Crystal Asian Massage at 407 W. Main St. was “the result of several months of investigation.”
According to the city’s release, the search was conducted in partnership with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation Crime Scene Unit, Franklin County Public Health, Westerville Code Enforcement, the Salvation Army and Asian American Services.
Chandler said the Salvation Army’s presence was because of the potential for a human-trafficking situation.
“This business has been on our radar for quite some time,” he said. “We understand citizens’ concerns with businesses like these. Unfortunately, when there’s an active investigation, we can’t really share a lot.”
Chandler confirmed that Crystal Asian Massage has “a shared business manager” with a similar business, Orchid Asian Spa, which has not yet opened at 535 S. Otterbein Ave.
Orchid has prompted concerns by posting advertisements on such websites as BackPage or Craigslist, featuring risqué photographs of women and suggestive phrases.
On two building permits filed with the city, Crystal Asian Spa is listed as the tenant for the building. Crystal Asian Spa is a massage parlor at 1351 W. Lane Ave. in Columbus affiliated with the company Crystal Asian Spa LLC.
Regarding the Columbus location, Chandler said, he had “no clue about that location.”
Chandler said he could not share any details of what evidence prompted the search warrant or what reports from residents prompted police to investigate it.
“This search warrant was basically done to try to help us further what we’ve got going on,” he said.
Chandler said two people police “believe were employees” were detained for questioning with Westerville police. He said no charges had been filed “as of right now” and would not say if he expects them to be.
“The Salvation Army helps deal with people who are victims of human trafficking, if that ends up being the case,” he said. “You can’t call them that (at this point), but we wanted to make sure the workers here were treated with dignity and respect, so we made sure we had the social services here that were necessary to take care of them.”
Chandler declined to say whether the business would be shut down, but he implied such an action could be taken by the city’s planning and zoning department if it were discovered that the business was not adhering to its operating permit.
“The result could be that (the business closes),” he said. “We’re not there yet, as of right now. That’s why our planning and zoning (department) is going to have a lot to do with that. That’s why we have them here today.”
Given the recent public outcry on the topic, Chandler addressed residents in the interview.
“I would like to say that we understand your concern, and we have been listening, and we have been investigating,” he said. “Unfortunately, when we have an open investigation, we can’t let the people we’re investigating know that we are.”
Chandler said the next step in the process is to compile a report from the search and that the process is not finished.
“This investigation is ongoing,” he said. “This isn’t the end.”