Editorial: ABQ massage parlor bust highlights ugly open secret - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: ABQ massage parlor bust highlights ugly open secret

After five years of investigations by the IRS, Homeland Security Investigations and the Albuquerque police Vice Unit, authorities say the “vast majority” of Asian massage parlors in Albuquerque “operate as houses of prostitution.”

The assessment is in a federal search warrant affidavit that led to the March 29 arrest of Lily Bai, 40, of Corona, California, on racketeering and money laundering charges. She’s accused of running a prostitution ring through eight illicit Asian massage parlors in Albuquerque, Farmington, Las Cruces and Silver City since 2014.

According to the affidavit, undercover officers were offered sex acts at least eight times at Bai’s parlors between 2017 and 2022. But most troubling is the allegation Bai’s employees — rarely licensed massage therapists — are coerced into performing sex acts to earn money for basic living expenses. If true, that’s human sex trafficking.

Court records state Bai told an undercover APD officer posing as a prospective buyer it’s harder to make money with the same girl and suggested having new workers every month. The case raises the question of how many more vulnerable women are being exploited as sex workers in New Mexico massage parlors. A check with city officials shows around 190 state-licensed massage businesses in Albuquerque as of May 2020. While many are clearly legal therapeutic operations, the affidavit says some are not.

We hope authorities are actively investigating those other massage parlors because Bai isn’t an outlier if the “vast majority” of Asian massage parlors are engaged in prostitution. After years of this ugly open secret, it’s time to step up investigations and stamp out any human sex trafficking taking place in these parlors.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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