DRACUT — A massage parlor at the center of a months-long investigation into an alleged prostitution network has changed owners several times since it opened last year.
Police arrested Dan T. Zheng, 47, of Boston on human-trafficking charges Wednesday, alleging she forced employees to perform sexual services at four massage parlors around the area, including Sunflower Spa in Dracut. Authorities said Zheng oversaw business at the locations in question.
On Thursday, staff at the parlor who identified themselves as the owners said they had taken over the business in July and had nothing to do with the charges.
According to records obtained by The Sun, the town business certificate registration for Sunflower Spa is currently issued to Yong Keng Chen, of Boston. The tidy massage parlor was open shortly before noon Thursday and Yong Keng Chen, who was inside, pulled out his phone and referred a Sun reporter’s questions to his daughter who would only identify herself as Ms. Chen. Over the phone, Chen denied any wrongdoing and said her father took over the business as the new owner back in July.
“We are the ones who are innocent,” Chen said. She added that they had no knowledge of Zheng’s alleged activities and that Sunflower Spa was not “her (Zheng’s) place anymore.”
“We just do the regular massage,” said Chen.
Chen also said she went to the Dracut Police Department to share their story when she learned of the investigation.
Following a months-long investigation, authorities arrested Zheng, in Boston, and alleged that she sold female employees for sex at four spas she oversaw: Sunflower in Dracut, Lisa Massage Therapy in Arlington, Sunshine Spa and Massage in Stoneham and Rose Health Spa in Boston. Search warrants executed at those locations Wednesday located six female victims, officials said.
Zheng was arraigned Thursday in Cambridge District Court on charges of trafficking persons for sexual servitude, deriving support from prostitution and procuring support for prostitution. Judge Dominic Paratore ordered her held on $100,000 bail. Zheng will next appear in court on Jan. 10.
According to town records, a business certificate registration was first issued on Oct. 18, 2017, under Dan Wei Zheng for a body work/massage business. Town Clerk Kathleen Graham said the certificate was discontinued on July 31, 2018 and a new certificate was opened with two new names that replaced Zheng: Chen Jing and Liu Yao Mei, both of Boston. Then, the certificate was renewed, this time under the name of Yong Keng Chen, of Boston. The current registration expires on July 31, 2022.
“I feel confident in the district attorney and law enforcement,” Town Manager Jim Duggan said Thursday in reaction to the investigation. “They worked collaboratively together and I am appreciative of a swift removal of such a disgusting activity that is nothing but a cancer in any community.”
The massage parlor is located at 11 Broadway Rd., on the side of a small plaza that also houses In Style Nails and Tony and Ann’s Pizza. According to a poster on the business’ entrance door, Sunflower Spa is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Foot massages cost $50 for an hour and body massages cost $40 for a half-hour and $60 for one hour.
Selectmen Chair Jesse Forcier said he was “shocked” and “very disappointed” that something like this could be in the town. He declined to comment further.
A man working at Tony and Ann’s Pizza on Thursday declined to comment Thursday, and a message was left for the owner of In Style Nails.
“Regardless of whether it’s in Dracut or in Boston, human trafficking is a serious issue and I’m glad that we can do our part to put an end to it,” Selectmen Vice Chairwoman Alison Hughes said when reached by phone.
Messages were left for Selectmen Tony Archinski, Joseph DiRocco Jr., and Tami Dristiliaris.
“This was a great coordinated and collaborative effort between all the agencies that were involved in order to put an end to the exploitation of women for illegal sexual services,” Police Chief Peter Bartlett said. “I’m grateful for the cooperation from these other agencies to help us eradicate businesses like this from the town of Dracut.”
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.