April 22 – A California woman is accused of running a prostitution ring at several Asian massage parlors in New Mexico that officers say have made hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.
Lily Bai is charged with three counts of interstate and foreign travel for the benefit of racketeering and money laundering enterprises related to her operations in Farmington, Las Cruces, Silver City and Albuquerque.
The allegations are contained in a federal search warrant affidavit unsealed this week.
The 40-year-old man, who lives in Corona, California, was arrested on March 29 by the US Marshals Service. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
During a years-long investigation, federal and local authorities said they learned that Bai ran eight illicit massage businesses across the state and earned nearly $800,000 since 2014.
The IRS, Homeland Security Investigations, and Albuquerque Police Vice Unit also found that the “vast majority” of Asian massage parlors in Albuquerque “operate like brothels,” according to the report. affidavit of search warrant.
Authorities say salons are distinct from legitimate businesses, often using curtains to cover shop windows and featuring dim red or purple lighting and scantily-clad masseuses who only accept payment in advance and work late into the night .
The search warrant affidavit alleges the workers are rarely licensed massage therapists and are forced to perform sex acts to earn money “for basic living expenses.” Many salons are advertised on sites like www.rubmaps.cn where authorities found a review of Dian Dian Massage, owned by Bai in Las Cruces, which touted how the masseuse “delivered the goods” and allowed her to have “wandering” hands. on his clothes.”
“If you can’t manage a sketchy salon, don’t go,” the reviewer wrote.
Between 2017 and 2022, undercover officers were offered sex acts at least eight times in Bai’s salons, according to the affidavit.
In November and March, authorities said undercover HSI agents visited two Las Cruces salons where workers offered sex acts that ranged in price from $40 to $140, but the couple “declined the offers and left. the company”.
Court records indicate that in 2018, an undercover agent from the Albuquerque Police Department’s Vice Unit contacted Bai to inquire about buying one of his massage parlors, records show. judicial. The agent met with her several times and she explained the business to him.
Bai allegedly told the agent that clients paid $40 or $60 up front, which was hers, and that the masseuse could keep any tips. She said the masseuse from her shop in Albuquerque, which has since been sold, lived in the business so Bai wouldn’t have to spend money on an apartment.
The court records included a photo of the living quarters, a small room with a bed and a microwave oven on a table. Bai allegedly told the agent that a heater was sufficient for the space as there was no ventilation.
Court records indicate Bai told the potential buyer it was harder to make money with the same girl and suggested getting new employees every month. She said workers use a bank card to deposit $1,000 at a time and salons make up to $6,000 a month with six clients a day.
Authorities say Bai and her husband reported income of $24,000 in 2016 but made deposits of $95,000 that year and more than $788,000 since 2014. Bai told the agent that salon business is better in New Mexico because massage licenses are not verified here but they are in other states.
New Mexico’s Bill 155, introduced in 2020, would have required massage businesses to be licensed and allowed officials to inspect businesses for license and health violations.
Bernice Geiger of the state’s Department of Regulation and Licensing said the bill failed to pass after massage therapists said it “went too far.”
Bai told the officer she once sold a salon after a police raid and had five separate phones, according to court records. She said she and other illicit shop owners use WeChat to alert themselves if the police arrive so they can shut down the salon and avoid detection.
By 2020, Bai had sold her shop in Albuquerque but bought another in Silver City and transported a woman from California to work at the Las Cruces salon, court records show. Bai told the agent that her husband’s cousin had been brought to Las Cruces to work at the salon there and that he would use a cash application to send the profits back to him.
In January 2022, Bai told the agent that she had sold all but two of her salons and wanted to open “a real massage shop” that can have more tables and make more money.
When the agent asked what a “real massage shop” looked like, Bai replied, “not that guy.”