Just over a week after three nail and massage businesses were raided during a human trafficking investigation, the state of Tennessee has suspended licenses for one of those salons.
On Friday, the state's Board of Cosmetology and Barber examiners authorized the suspension of manicure shop and skin care shop licenses for Shine Nails, as well as the manicure license of Loi Lam, the shop's manager.
Kevin Walters, communications director for the Department of Commerce and Insurance, said the agency would be sharing the order with law enforcement and the Department of Health.
Multiple people, including Lam, were charged July 20 after Metro police raided businesses they believe have operated as a front for prostitution, as well as potential human trafficking and money laundering.
The three salons, advertising massage and manicure services, are all located in the police department’s Hermitage Precinct in the eastern part of the city.
“This is a huge problem in the metro area,” said Tammy Meade, Davidson County assistant district attorney. “This is a hub for human trafficking, because we have an international airport. We have interstates that run through this city that come from all points of the United States.
“We’re an it-city. We have lots of tourists, we have lots of people moving into the city every day, and with those things come unfortunate acts such as this.”
Meade’s office, as well as Metro police, are particularly concerned about the female employees who were working in the three businesses. The investigation focused on Shine Nails on Elm Hill Pike, Blue Sapphire on Donelson Pike and Healing Arts Massage on Old Hickory Boulevard.
The Department of Commerce and Insurance doesn't license massage parlors.
According to Metro police, eight women were working in the businesses at the time police executed search warrants on July 20. All eight are from China. Some received misdemeanor citations for prostitution.
In addition, four individuals face a charge of felony promoting prostitution for allegedly playing a role in the operation of the business. Loi Lam, 57, Jie Allen, 46, Ying Jiang, 27, and Ying Zhang, 33, were each charged.
Metro police searched a home owned by Allen, located at 1124 Seven Points Pass and valued at more than $400,000, on which the department and district attorney’s office have placed a lien.
Inside, officers seized $61,000 in cash, in addition to a new leather sectional with tags still attached.
Meade said the property was just bought in May with a “large down payment.”
“It was purchased with a large amount of ill-gotten gains,” she said while speaking outside of Shine Nails on Thursday morning.
An undercover operation
Police first began investigating the businesses in April after receiving multiple complaints from people in the community, including other nearby business owners concerned about what was going on at the massage and nail parlors.
Capt. Mike Alexander, who oversees the specialized investigation division that put undercover officers on the case, said the department felt strongly about pursuing the case largely because of “all the legitimate business owners that have legitimate businesses near these locations that are operating within the confines of the law.”
Over the course of the investigation, officers conducted surveillance, allegedly observing Lam, Allen, Jiang and Zhang driving the women, described as young and “dressed in provocative clothing” from two residences to the businesses.
A black minivan parked in front of Shine Nails July 20 was the vehicle that was often used to transport the women, according to Metro police.
Undercover officers reportedly documented “prostitution activities” by the women, Metro police said, as well as observed 10 men enter Shine Nails on July 10, each staying for durations of around an hour or more.
“They would come in and ask for a massage, and then once they got back in the room, the deals were made,” Meade said.
On Thursday, officers cited 71-year-old John Haynes, of Nashville, with misdemeanor patronizing prostitution after they found him “in a state of undress in one of the rooms with a female,” said Don Aaron, public affairs manager for Metro police.
Though some of the female employees alleged to have engaged in prostitution were cited, Meade said authorities do so in order to have the women come to court and connect them with needed resources.
“We explain what trafficking is and what services we can give them, and put them in a safe place,” Meade said.
On Thursday, Metro police said authorities had reached out to advocacy groups to provide interim assistance to the women.
Meade said their charges would most likely be dismissed and expunged after connecting the women with programs to help them.
“It’s a very sad scenario for us, quite frankly,” Alexander said. “It seems like a significant number of these female employees were living either at the residence of the owner or living at some of these massage parlors, from what we can tell. It seems like a day-to-day life at this point of being told when to get up, where to go, when to leave, when to come back.”
Alexander confirmed that police are aware of other businesses in the city engaging in similar activities, and urges them to “heed this warning and make sure they’re operating within the confines of the law.”