ST. MARTIN -- Jackson County law enforcement and the district attorney officially shut down JJ Spa in a strip mall along North Washington Avenue on Friday, saying the business was illegal and dealt in human trafficking and prostitution.
Even though it was shut down Friday, men continued to arrive and test the locked front door. One man with a Texas license plate tried to get in while reporters were waiting for the district attorney to arrive and make his announcement.
At the press conference, Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence and investigators showed the inside of the building. It was neat and modern with several rooms. Crime tape was on the doors.
"We will not allow this in our community," Lawrence said. "This is organized criminal activity, indentured servitude and enslavement of people and it's just wrong."
In a written handout, he said, "This community will not allow people to be enslaved into sex trafficking."
Investigators confirmed four women were living at the spa at the time of Wednesday's raid. But the spa has been the target of a long investigation. It was conducted by the Human Trafficking Task Force that Lawrence said he started in 2013.
That task force arrested two people at the JJ Spa on Wednesday. Those two people have not been identified.
During the raid there was "certainly evidence some of the people were required to live here," Lawrence said. The women who were being held there Wednesday are now in an undisclosed location, an assistant district attorney said.
On Friday, Lawrence and Sheriff Mike Ezell officially shut down JJ Spa as a public nuisance with a civil action granting a restraining order against two women -- the registered business agent, Hana Sanghee Bergeson of Jackson County, and manager Yeon Sook Hwang, who lives in Harrison County.
There is a federal indictment for Yeon Sook Hwang, also known as Jackie. And a state case is pending.
Lawrence said women held against their will by the business were brought in from other states. People who work at nearby businesses confirmed women lived on the property and were not allowed to leave -- food and water were brought in.
Lawrence said Friday the federal indictment involved money laundering, prostitution and interstate trafficking of people. That indictment said women were brought in from California, Georgia, New York, Colorado, North Carolina and Texas.
Lawrence indicated this is not the only operation in human trafficking in the county.
He also noted earlier this week there was an "abnormally high number of massage parlors in Jackson County."
He said Friday, "This is the first in a lot of punches to be thrown to rid this community of this menace."
Lawrence said the people involved in this operation were Korean nationals.
"The activity that was occurring within JJ Spa not only put the health and safety of the people in the business at risk, but also had an effect on the surrounding businesses, neighborhoods and community in general," Lawrence said.
Ezell said, "As always, we want people to call us. If you see something that doesn't look right, call us."
The JJ Spa has been in the same location under another name, 777, which closed. The county and other agencies have been investigating the massage parlor for more than a year because of continued complaints. Lhis week, law enforcement indicated there may be more arrests as business documents are uncovered.
In addition to other things, the spa was practicing massage without a state license.
Participating in the investigation are the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Marshals Service and the state Attorney General's Office.
Naked when raided
Jackson County Sheriff's investigators found posts about the spa on websites indicating multiple sexual acts were performed by multiple providers at the spa as recently as June, according to an affidavit in the case.
"Several individuals have posted to these websites stating they received oral and vaginal sex at JJ Spa from providers named Hanna and Heaven," it stated. "The posts indicated the costs for each transaction, details of sexual acts that may be purchased and that payments could only be made in cash."
Officials said the women were Koreans under the age of 30, and some spoke little English.
When they conducted surveillance on the spa, investigators watched numerous men in different vehicles arrive and depart. Each went in the front door and re-emerged after an hour, an amount of time consistent with what the web posts indicated for sex acts.
When law officers raided the place, they learned a sex act had occurred just prior to officers' arrival, according to the affidavit and "sex acts between female employees and male patrons were imminent at the time of the raid."
One officer noted a naked man on a massage table and a woman in the process of undressing when officers entered.
They found many condoms and "other sex related items, phone numbers and client lists" on the premises.