In February of this year, after an eight-month investigation conducted by multiple law enforcement agencies (including several law enforcement agencies from Orange County to Palm Beach together with the IRS and Homeland Security), six women were charged for their part in an alleged prostitution ring which operated in massage parlors in the area. Around 100 men have also been arrested for allegedly visiting the massage parlors.
The five spas targeted were the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter; the Sequoia Apple Day Spa and the Bridge Day Spa in Hobe Sound; and the Therapy Day Spa and Cove Day Spa in Stuart.
According to Sheriff William Snyder, these arrests are “the tip of the tip of the iceberg.” The investigation is still ongoing as investigators are examining potential human trafficking charges. The first two arrests were announced on February 19 when Ruimei Li, age 49, and Lixia Zhu, age 49, were charged with money laundering, racketeering, permitting prostitution, and operating a house of prostitution.
The investigation made national news when it was revealed that Robert K. Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, was among the men who allegedly visited the spas. In April, a Palm Beach County judge blocked the release of a video which allegedly showed Kraft at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa receiving sexual services.
At the time of the initial arrests, agents seized up to $3 million in assets. Law enforcement is attempting to keep possession of these assets using a procedure known as civil asset forfeiture. This allows law enforcement agencies to seize an individual’s property or cash if it is suspected of being involved in a crime.
In 2016, Rick Scott, the then-governor of Florida, signed into law SB 1044, which reformed civil asset forfeiture in the state. SB 1044, which had been unanimously passed by both houses of the state legislature, increased the level of evidence required for property to be forfeited to “beyond a reasonable doubt”—equal to the standard required in criminal cases. The bill also required police to make an arrest before being able to take most property.
According to court documents, law enforcement has filed a forfeiture action against a condominium in Jupiter which is partly owned by Hua Zhang, owner of the Orchids of Asia Day spa. Law enforcement has also filed an action against property owned by Ruimei Li including two cars, over $150,000 in cash, and a condominium in Stuart. Law enforcement is attempting civil forfeitures of cars, money, jewelry, and a condominium in Hobe Sound belonging to Lei Wang, manager at Orchids of Asia.
Finally, police also seized money and cars during raids on the Cove Day Spa, the Bridge Day Spa, and the Therapy Day Spar, where Lixia Zhu was allegedly president.
These forfeiture cases are separate from the criminal actions against these individuals and will be decided by a judge in due course.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.