Over the last decade, South Florida has seen a tremendous growth in the number of massage parlors throughout Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade Counties. This expansion has become a cause for concern for officials in those counties, as such parlors are often a hub for sex trafficking and human slavery, news sources indicate. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has already pinpointed a number of suspicious massage parlors, conducting raids and seizing documents and computers from several South Florida businesses. As the federal investigation moves forward, more raids and arrests may occur.
Reports say the surge in massage parlors throughout South Florida began around 10 years ago. While there is nothing unlawful about running a licensed massage parlor, detectives say unlicensed businesses, or businesses that obtain their licenses through fraud, are often hot spots for human trafficking and prostitution. Reports indicate that there are over 100 massage and spa locations within in South Florida, including 32 in Fort Lauderdale, 24 throughout Pompano Beach and Hollywood, 20 in Boca Raton, and 19 in West Palm Beach. 12 fraudulent massage businesses in Miami-Dade, 10 in Palm Beach, and another 32 in Broward County have already been uncovered.
Last month, officials in Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties seized 54 massage parlor licenses. The business owners allegedly acquired those licenses through an illegal operation conducted by a lone staff member at the Florida College of Natural Health, who has since been fired. It is not clear whether that person is facing criminal charges.
In July, Florida enacted a new law requiring massage parlor owners to provide valid licenses and proof of identity for anyone working at the business during police investigations or health inspections. The new law is meant to limit businesses’ ability to hire people who are in the country without the proper documents to work. This, in turn, would make employing victims of human trafficking would much more difficult.
However, it appears as though state efforts may not be enough. Broward County’s massage parlors may currently be targets for the FBI, new sources indicate. Reports say FBI investigators have raided a number of businesses in the county. When asked about the possible investigation and FBI spokesperson said, “As a matter of policy, we do not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.” However, reports say a number of businesses have been raided, during which time detectives confiscated items such as documents and computers.
The mayor of Hallandale Beach has since confirmed that an investigation is ongoing, saying “I can’t really comment on what’s been going on because of the federal case. I just want to let you know that we consider it a serious thing.”
So far, news outlets have not reported any arrests, though there is an indication that police are targeting business owners of a specific race (racial profiling is, as always, illegal, and if the FBI is proven to be using such tactics they may find themselves on the other side of the law). The investigation remains ongoing. A mayor in Hollywood commented, saying, “At my urging, we are actually looking at how to regulate them [the massage and spa parlor.”