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No happy ending for local massage parlors

November 4 was just another normal day in the Pioneer Valley: cows being milked, hippies shopping for organic vegetables, Chinese prostitution rings being infiltrated by the police.

On Wednesday, Nov. 4, eight area massage parlors in six towns were raided by state and local police on suspicion of prostitution. According to a Nov. 4 report by ABC 40 News, the investigation was prompted by a tip from federal authorities in New York.

Three women were arrested in the aftermath of the raid. Xiumei Zheng and Zhen Shu of Hadley were charged with performing sexual acts for a fee, with bail set at $250. Zheng and Shu were arrested at Jane’s Spa and Hadley Massage respectively, both of which are located on Russell Street in Hadley.

Xuili Li of Longmeadow was arrested and held on $5000 bail on charges of operating an unlicensed massage parlor and allowing prostitution on the premises. A resident of Springfield, Mass., Li is the owner of Chinese Massage located at 809 Maple Street Rd. in Longmeadow and Chinese Massage at 217 Belmont Ave. in Springfield.

Angela Stasiowski, a University of Massachusetts junior who lives two blocks away from Chinese Massage in Longmeadow, says that it was completely unexpected coming from Longmeadow.

“Honestly, when is a prostitution ring not a surprise?” Stasiowski said. “But yeah, it’s definitely out of the norm for our town. Longmeadow is nice suburban town with lots of wealthy folk.”

“I never heard anything, ‘Chinese Massage’ is in this plaza with a bunch of other stores and restaurants,” Stasiowski said when asked whether she had heard anything about the prostitution ring prior to the raids. “It’s one of those sketchy places you tend to avoid. I’ve been to the Chinese restaurant next to it though, Li’s Brother’s. The food is pretty good.”

There are two Chinese restaurants in the same plaza at Chinese Massage in Longmeadow. One is Iron Chef Asian Cuisine, the other is Li’s Brother’s Chinese Japanese Restaurant. Neither is in any way connected to Xuili Li’s Chinese Massage.

According to an employee of Li’s Brothers, the restaurant has been suffering as a result of the scandal at Chinese Massage.

“We’ve been losing a lot of business over this,” said the employee, who preferred to remain anonymous. “We’re not owned by the same people,” he went on, “the last name is just a bad coincidence. Li is a very common last name, like Smith, there are millions of people in China named Li.”

The raids were the culmination of several months of investigations by state and local police. According to the ABC report, officers used an undercover informant after witnessing men entering the business and leaving an hour later looking disheveled. The informant reported being led into a room in Chinese Massage where he was asked to remove his clothes. The informant said that he could hear sounds form the next room that suggested another client was having sex, and was approached by another Chinese Massage employee who offered him sex in exchange for additional money.

The ABC report says that the police went on to use an undercover officer, who paid $50 for a massage at Chinese Massage and then requested a “happy ending.” The term “happy ending” reportedly meant oral sex. According to the officer, Xuili Li told him it would be $40 for a happy ending, and $50 for each additional girl.

Li’s attorney, Christopher Todd, has argued that the language barrier prevented Li from understanding what the officer was requesting.

According to a Nov. 5 article in the Springfield Republican, prostitution in western Massachusetts massage parlors has been connected to a Chinese organized crime ring operating out of Flushing, New York. Flushing is the second largest Chinatown in the U.S.

UMass junior and Longmeadow native Elisabeth Compton said the raid was initially disturbing but that, upon consideration, she realized there might be a market in her town for such services.

“It was shocking at first, but then I thought about it, and it’s actually not surprising,” she said. “Not to stereotype, but there are a lot of wealthy businessmen living in Longmeadow – businessmen and lawyers.”

Although the Longmeadow massage parlor has been getting the most publicity, the prostitution circuit was not limited to Longmeadow. Seven other massage parlors in Springfield, East Longmeadow, Hadley, Chicopee and West Springfield were raided and face charges ranging from prostitution and operating an unlicensed massage parlor to employment of illegal immigrants.

Zheng and Shu will return to court next month on charges of prostitution; Xuili Li is due back on November 23. If convicted, Li could face a minimum of two years in prison and a $5000 fine.

Rachel Dougherty can be reached at rdougher@student.umass.edu.

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