Pennsylvania Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, announced in an August 16th press release that David Williams of Pensacola, Florida is facing Federal charges for allegedly owning and operating a human trafficking ring disguised as multiple massage parlors throughout Pennsylvania, Florida, and Virginia. Williams was arrested and charged with using interstate facilities for purposes of racketeering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and harboring undocumented immigrants for commercial advantage or private financial gain. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David l. Goldberg out of the Northern District of Florida following a joint investigation between several law enforcement agencies in Florida and Pennsylvania.
A collaborative investigation into the Florida man’s businesses in the Commonwealth was launched between the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, Pennsylvania State Police, and Pittsburgh FBI. Last Thursday, the agencies executed search warrants at several massage businesses throughout Pennsylvania, including Massage 10 in Jeannette, Ci Ci Wellness in Turtle Creek, Thai Massage in Carnegie, Thai Massage in Bridgeville, and 1407 Peninsula Massage in Erie.
The charges allege that Williams exploited undocumented women for purposes of commercial sex at his massage businesses. The investigation was initiated following a tip received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline and remains ongoing. “The defendant allegedly used his business to exploit women in several different states and force them into prostitution purely to line his own pockets,” said Attorney General Shapiro in the press release.
The CSE Institute applauds the work of all the agencies that contributed to the investigation of this large-scale human trafficking operation. Unfortunately, massage parlors being used as fronts for commercial sexual exploitation are commonplace. According to a study on illicit massage business trafficking by Polaris Project, women trafficked in illicit massage businesses are likely to have recently arrived in the U.S. from China or South Korea, are under extreme financial pressure, speak little to no English, are unlikely to have more than a high school education, and tend to be mothers in their mid-30s to late 50s.
We are hopeful that the persons allegedly engaging in commercial sex within these illicit businesses do not face criminal charges further down the line. Many of the women who Florida authorities originally touted as victims in the now infamous “Robert Kraft” case ended up facing criminal charges when prosecutors could not prove the occurrence of human trafficking. Undertaking investigations in the name of eradicating sex trafficking is valuable cause. However, any “human trafficking investigation” that ends with prostituted persons being arrested is a disgraceful front for what should just be called an old-fashioned prostitution bust.
Not all commercial sex is a form of sex trafficking, but all sex trafficking occurs because there is a demand for commercial sex. In these cases, treating those who don’t comport with the legal definition of a human trafficking victim as criminals only serves to exacerbate the problem. The real offenders are the persons who feel entitled to purchase another human being for purposes of sexual gratification, thereby creating the market human traffickers seek to fill and dehumanizing the prostituted person in the process.
All viewed expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.