16 arrested in Orange Park prostitution bust

By Vic Micolucci, General assignment reporter, vic@wjxt.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 07:47:51 AM EST
Updated On: Sep 19 2013 10:59:56 PM EDT

Officers arrested 16 people who were running illegal escort services in three Orange Park massage parlors.

ORANGE PARK, Fla. -

Clay County detectives say three Orange Park massage parlors were offering more than just back rubs. 

After an undercover investigation into sex-for-money services in the area, deputies arrested 16 people -- some employees of the "spas" or "health centers," and others who worked for or operated escort services.

The investigation began after residents and businesses in the area became suspicious.

"Only men go in there," said Shelli Maroe, a worker at restaurant near one of the parlors. "We've never seen a woman go in there -- ever."

MUG SHOTS: 14 women, 2 men arrested

Deputies say that men would go in to the Red Lantern Health Center, the nearby Ocean Spa or the Inchiban Health Center and pay money for the masseuse to go over the line into illegal activity.

"There were guys in bullet proof vests and things like that," said Sarah Strahminger, whose shoe shop is by one of the businesses that was raided on Tuesday. "It was exciting for everybody -- that wasn't getting arrested I suppose."

All three businesses were locked tight on Thursday. A few people tried to come by the spas when Channel 4 was there, only to find they were closed. They said they had no knowledge of the alleged illegal activity.

At the same time, other deputies were running an Internet sting, finding women who advertised escort services in the area.  For anywhere from $80 to $250, deputies say the men got more than a dinner companion.

In addition to 14 women arrested in the bust, two men accused of setting up the "dates" and driving the escorts were also taken into custody. According to her arrest report, one woman told an undercover detective if he didn't pay up her "pimp" would "beat him up."

Many accused of taking part in the escort services were also charged with drug possession.

"I'm glad that they got them. I just don't understand why people can conduct that kind of business in a town like Orange Park and not be found out," Maroe said.

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