A joint investigation by the Harris County District Attorney’s money laundering division and Houston Police is targeting individuals suspected of operating a series of strip-center brothels. So far, three people have been charged with engaging in organized crime and at least one bank account has been seized.
An arrest warrant reads investigators targeted three so-called spas and massage parlors on Jones Rd., Wilcrest and Corporate Dr. Prosecutors said multiple prostitution cases were made at each location.
“Our office worked in conjunction with an HPD squad,” said chief of the DA’s money laundering division, Elizabeth Hayes. “While they’re conducting the undercover research and the surveillance work, we’re digging into paperwork.”
Hayes said Min Li, 55, is suspected of being the main operator of the businesses. Hayes said Li was investigated for promotion of prostitution in 2017, but the charged was reduced to a misdemeanor. Court documents show Li was given deferred adjudication of guilt and one-year probation.
Hayes said during that case Li gave a statement she was offered a job working at a spa in Houston while she was living in China.
“(In) her own words, she was going to come here, make some quick money and go home, return to China. And while she was here, she was offered an apprenticeship, a chance to become more involved at the managerial, ownership level,” said Hayes.
Hayes said the DA’s received information in the fall of 2022 Li was again operating a suspected brothel. Hayes said investigators identified the primary bank Li was using to deposit funds from the business. Hayes said Li was charging women in the spas and massage parlors $40 a day to work and then a $60 cut of whatever each woman made from clients.
“So she’s getting a hefty paycheck everyday,” said Hayes.
Hayes said the investigation also identified Aimin Tan, 47, and Cam Ba Ly, 64, who has not yet been arrested.
“Aimin Tan, she was, kind of the new business partner that was brought in, the new apprentice,” said Hayes. “Cam Ba Ly, we located his name on a lot of the paperwork; we noted him being the leaseholder on a couple of the locations.”
Hayes also said advertisements for all three businesses featured scantily clad women and one of the businesses outright offered sex.
“We find these ads on some of these websites that are very blatant, very open about what they offer,” said Hayes.
Similar to police and prosecutors shifting their focus to pimps and those who pay for sex when it comes to street-level prostitution; investigators are now targeting those who operating and profit from these so-called massage parlors and spas. Hayes said many of the women found in these businesses are lured to the US under false pretenses and forced into prostitution.
“We’re also building financial investigations so that we can try and take their stuff, take their assets, take their money, because that’s where we usually find we’re really successful at stopping them,” said Hayes.