VERO BEACH – A Pompano Beach woman arrested in 2019 at East Sea Spa, Sebastian, during a sex-for-pay investigation, reached a plea deal on Thursday that ended her criminal case, a prosecutor confirmed of the Republic.
Liyan Zhang, 43, did not challenge a count of engaging in prostitution during a hearing before Indian River County Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn, according to Deputy Prosecutor Michelle McCarter.
Zhang was ordered to serve a 60-day probation period and fined $ 500.
In return, the state dropped one charge of felony racketeering, one count of operating a brothel and 29 counts of prostitution.
East Spa was closed in February 2019 along with two other Indian River County day spas in a three-county criminal investigation that resulted in charges – now dropped – against Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, after visiting a spa in Jupiter twice in 2019.
Hundreds of criminal charges filed by the state after the extensive investigation came to light have all been dropped.
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Indian River County Sheriff’s detectives said Zhang was the owner of the East Sea Spa.
She was one of a dozen women who worked day spas in Indian River, Martin and Palm Beach counties who resolved their charges through plea deals that did not include incarceration.
Co-defendant Lanyun Ma, 50, of Orlando, who according to arrest reports ran East Spa and AA Massage, in Vero Beach, has pleaded not guilty to racketeering in connection with prostitution and human trafficking; illegal transport for the purpose of prostitution; and engage in prostitution.
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According to Ma’s arrest reports, she was seen carrying numerous women with suitcases to and from the spa, who are believed to be victims of human trafficking. Some stayed for a few days, others for weeks.
His case is still pending, according to records.
In January, Zhang’s attorney filed documents seeking to release the same video recorded by Indian River County sheriff’s deputies that was deleted as part of 2019 court rulings later upheld on appeal, which also banned as evidence video recorded by Vero Beach Police, Martin County Sheriff’s Deputies, and Jupiter Police.
Specifically, the West Palm Beach Fourth District Court of Appeals found that police investigators violated the rights of recorded individuals by failing to comply with minimization requirements or measures to avoid monitoring innocent behavior when covert operations.
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State prosecutors then began dropping dozens of misdemeanor prostitution cases after the Florida attorney general’s office refused to appeal.
A hearing on Zhang’s motion never took place, according to court records.
Other former day spa clients – a few who had been charged, others never arrested but videotaped – are still suing for damages in federal lawsuits that also seek to force the forces of the order to destroy videos recorded in massage rooms while authorities monitored owners and operators and customers.
Melissa E. Holsman is the legal affairs reporter for TCPalm and Treasure Coast Newspapers, and is a writer and co-host of Uncertain terms, a real crime podcast.