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Investigators Probing Lake Spa for Ties to Human Trafficking

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton is a member of the state attorney general's special task force on human trafficking.

Lake Spa has an ad on the online classifieds site Backpage, which the National Association of Attorneys General says is the premier web site for human trafficking in the United States. Photo: screenshot of Lake Spa ad
Lake Spa has an ad on the online classifieds site Backpage, which the National Association of Attorneys General says is the premier web site for human trafficking in the United States. Photo: screenshot of Lake Spa ad

Investigators are looking for links to human trafficking in last week’s lockdown of Lake Spa, a Fenton massage parlor.

The business was closed under a temporary restraining order issued Dec. 11, granted after masseuses employed by the business allegedly told police that sexual favors were a available in exchange for cash.

Lake Spa is located at 1490 Torrey Road in an industrial area just off U.S. 23 on the outskirts of Fenton.

In a statement announcing the investigation, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said human trafficking is “a very real concern.”

“Further investigation into this matter will continue and we will look at every possible angle to ensure that any form of human trafficking be stopped and those responsible be prosecuted,” he said.

Michigan officials have placed renewed focus on human trafficking, which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says is among the most heinous it investigates and akin to modern-day slavery. Victims often pay to be illegally transported to the United States and are forced into prostitution, involuntary labor and other forms of servitude to repay their debt for entry into the country.

Leyton is a member a commission appointed last March by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate human trafficking, MLive reports. Among its recommendations is a crackdown on web sites, such as Backpage.

Schuette is one of 48 attorneys general who joined in a bipartisan call for amendments to the Communications Decency Act of 1996, one of the first attempts by Congress to regulate pornographic material online. He argued stricter regulations would make it more difficult for human traffickers to “hide behind the relative anonymity of the Internet to sell and exploit innocent victims.”

Among those web sites, Backpage is especially notorious. The New York Times said in a report last year that prostitution ads provide $22 million in annual revenue for Backpage, which it said accounts for about 70 percent of the prostitution advertising among five web sites dealing with those types of accounts.

The National Association of Attorneys General says Backpage, which is owned by Village Voice Media, is the premier web site for human trafficking in the United States.

It’s an uphill battle.

A Washington state law targeting Backpage, where Lake Spa has an ad, was struck down by a federal judge in Seattle, who ruled the law was unconstitutional because it targeted companies rather than individuals who used advertised services for illegal activities.

Critics say that’s allowed purveyors of child prostitution to advertise and widen their net without severe consequences.

In Michigan, the panel that Leyton serves on is looking at possible state legislation to convict and punish individuals involved in human trafficking. Several prosecutions have already resulted since Schutte took office in 2011 and pledged to crack down on such crimes.

In 2002, investigators in Genesee County raided almost a dozen spas as part of a crackdown on spas operating as a front for organized crime, MLive said. The spas were accused of forcing immigrants into prostitution to pay for being smuggled into the United States.

At least one person who works near Lake Spa wasn’t surprised by the current investigation surrounding Lake Spa.

Jeff Buffmeyer, who works at a printing facility near the now shuttered massage parlor, told MLive people are coming and going at all hours of the day and night,

Buffmeyer’s band sometimes uses the printing facility for practices, and he said he’s seen men going into the Lake Spa at 2 or 3 in the morning.

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