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Bellevue Massage Parlor Investigation Tags 13 More Therapists

A total of 20 Bellevue massage therapists to date face fraud charges in a continuation of the investigation of alleged use of counterfeit credentials in obtaining massage therapist licenses.

Twenty massage therapists in Bellevue face fraud charges after a nine-month long investigation that a number of massage therapists had obtained their licenses using counterfeit credentials, according to the Bellevue Police Department.

The investigations .

The most recent arrests and citations were made Thursday, according to Bellevue Police spokesman Officer Seth Tyler.

Police spokeswoman Officer Carla Iafrate told Bellevue Patch last month that the investigation targeted individuals with improper licenses, not businesses, although some of the businesses did close after the arrests.

The Bellevue Police vice division has been investigating since September, when it received information from the Washington State Department of Health and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that a number of regional massage practitioner’s licenses had been obtained fraudulently.

The Bellevue Police Department reported that the therapists used suspected counterfeit credentials when applying to the Washington State Department of Health for a license to practice massage therapy.

According to the Bellevue police department, the people suspected claimed to have gone to school in China for the credentials, but they would have been unable to receive the listed massage training in China during the times listed on the applications.

Bellevue Police officers conducted a check of several massage parlors in the city of Bellevue on May 24, resulting in the arrest of 10 individuals and the citation of three, according to the Bellevue police department.

Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection provided Mandarin translators during the arrests, the Bellevue police reported.

The investigation is ongoing.

Affected Massage Parlors

Massage therapists who face charges after the fraud investigation worked for the following massage parlors. However, many of the following businesses also employed therapists with legitimate licenses.

Lotus Herbal Spa

Chi Energy Spa 

Sunflower Spa 

Hao Spa 

Jin Health Spa 

Lavender Spa 

Sapphire Spa

Kings Spa or Able Spa or Massage Spa

A-one Spa

Hao Spa

Aloha Spa (now called Lavender Spa) 

-- List provided by the

Lavon Watson May 26, 2012 at 05:39 AM
Before this is done I suspect numerous cities in the region will be involved and dozens more will have been arrested. This has been an ongoing problem for a while, and this is only about those people who have gone to the effort to get a fake license and doesn't even speak to how many of these women don't even bother to do that. And yes, I know some would argue the other side of this in their favor, but this is another instance of outsiders coming into an industry and virtually stealing our jobs, that can't be justified. If you work for a living and try to go by the rules in your job you end up at a disadvantage unless there's enforcement of the rules.
Glenda Poletti, LMP May 26, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Right on, Lavon. But the police and prosecutors should be going after the business owners too. You don't get a fraudulent license so you can practice legitimate, medically-based therapeutic massage. These business owners have a business plan that demands workers who are willing to commit crimes.
Lavon Watson, LMP May 26, 2012 at 02:47 PM
It would be nice if they could. Most all of the businesses listed have a history of employing unlicensed practitioners, but unfortunately massage employers here in Washington are significantly unregulated and many don't even have massage licenses themselves. If you are interested in my work in this area please feel free to go to www.defendingourgoodname.com for more information.
Rick Still May 26, 2012 at 04:45 PM
I really hope massage therapists start getting regulated more. I am a chiropractor we also do Massage in Longview, WA - www.drstilldc.com where I have established my practice. I only hire licensed massage therapists. I think it is very important that there is regulation on massage therapists. Without regulation people are committing crimes, and giving massage therapy a bad name.
Venice Buhain May 26, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Thanks for posting that website, Lavon. I think that massages are a great relief for physical and mental stress. As a consumer, I suspect that I have paid for massage therapists from people who have not been trained properly. Even as someone untrained, I can tell the difference in quality between someone with very good training and someone who (I suspect) has fly-by-night or fake credentials or no credentials at all -- and it is frustrating! Perhaps I should start feeling more comfortable asking questions about training, etc. Or even better, get to know one massage therapist and rely and trust that person. (I had that when I lived in Olympia....) What would you suggest are the right questions to ask?
Nabil Ashour May 26, 2012 at 10:54 PM
The Chinese basically invented massage. Period. They should not use false documents but to say that they are unqualified is untrue, indeed they put to shame our most experienced massage therapists and chiropractors. Where do you think Chiropractic came from? It came from Tuina and Anmo. Please don't be too harsh on them.
Lavon Watson, LMP May 26, 2012 at 11:17 PM
I don't disagree as to what you say regarding the benefits and roots of eastern medicine and massage, in fact I don't know that any part of this thread spoke negatively to that. Unfortunately, it is often these women who are taken advantage of by others, such as human traffickers, or most likely the crooks in China who probably sold them documents supporting the notion that they had received training that could be transferred here. In fact, I now teach an ethics class here at an eastside massage school to Chinese massage students who are making an effort to get their license the right way. The school is the first here in state to offer an English as a Second Language program of this nature and it's hoped that this will offer a means by which these students can bring their skills here in an appropriate manner. This is the first group to go through the program and I was touched and impressed by their commitment to the program. Don't throw everyone in the same box with all of this, but be clear that there are those who are working the system to their own advantage.
kelly sanders, BS CST LMT TRS CNA May 27, 2012 at 02:10 AM
I say, IF one can't do it legally, don't do it at all AND don't ruin the reputations of those that have done it legally AND ethically.
Helen Read May 27, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Right on Nabil. Thankyou for pointing out what should be obvious. People can be skilled without credentials and Asia has about 4000 years of observational medicine above and beyond the Western versions. Would the naysayers prefer that all these people working to make a living be begging at your nearest onramp? Are you really so insecure that youre applauding their unemployment? Thats just thinly veiled racism. If you are secure in your skills you have what it takes. Be proud of yourselves for going through the process here, but dont be so arrogant as to assume that your way is the only correct way to have learned.
Lavon Watson, LMP May 27, 2012 at 04:08 AM
Venice, Helen, and Nabil are not all together wrong in regards to the value of eastern bodywork, and like many indutries the market often dictates where consumers go. I know many licensed massage practitioners who have sub-par massage skills, and often times they end up out of the industry because they simply can not generate the following to allow their business to succeed. That's pretty true of many occupations in a predominately capitalist society. However, although most of the rules regarding licensing here in the US are intended to protect consumers, they can also serve as a means to protect workers as well. Illicit business operators who employ unlicensed practitioners know that they have the upper hand and a common practice is to work the women through force, fraud or coercian, all of which are elements involved in human trafficking. It is not just the forced sale of sexual services that defines the crime of human trafficking, just like farm workers who are kept, and confined in bunk houses, working for nearly nothing to the profit of the farmer, many of these unlicensed women commonly live in the back of the business and earn very little for their twelve hour days. Granted begging along the side of the road may seem worse, but I have seen worse in regards to how some of these women are treated. (to be continued)
Lavon Watson, LMP May 27, 2012 at 04:10 AM
(Continuation) Finding a trained, licensed, and skilled massage practitioner is often a challenge, I too have to wade through some practitioners to find someone worthwhile from time to time. And yes, I do enjoy Thai Massage, Tuina and other forms of Asian bodywork, in a sense it's like choosing a good restaurant to me at times. After all, who wants to eat at McDonalds (Massage Envy) when you can have delicious cuisine that's better for you. None the less, I want to know that the kitchen is clean, and that the workers are paid a fair wage and treated with respect and dignity before I hand my money over to the business owner. I would suggest that you try services such as the American Massage Therapy Association "therapist finder" service on their website, or use services such as yelp.com. Just keep in mind that most states offer licensing these days and have websites that can provide you the ability to do credential searches. Beyond this, I really think consumers of all services should not be afraid to ask questions, whether you are getting a massage or getting your car tuned up. As for both, the true test will come when you are driving away, and hopefully driving away with a clear conscience that you haven't just turned money over to someone with the ethical conscience of a 19th century southern slave holder.
Jalene Johnson May 27, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Are you really suggesting that anyone who is Chinese should automatically qualify for a massage or chiropractic license? Surely you can't be saying that. One's ethnicity in and of itself bears no impact on one's knowledge. As a side note, well over 75% of the people involved in prostitution and/or human trafficking using massage for a cover involve people of Asian ethnicity. Nobody is being harsh about an ethnicity, but rather the actions that are being chosen. We don't want massage as a front for prostitution/human trafficking no matter what ethnicity is involved.
Jalene Johnson May 27, 2012 at 05:16 AM
I think there might be a misunderstanding happening. I think that some have understood the bust to be simply about the fact that there was illegal licensure and then assuming that the people who were busted were operating an ethical practice. That is not the case with the places listed in the article. These places are fronts for prostitution. That isn't to say that people of an Asian ethnicity are all operating fronts for prostitution. Some come over from other countries and have been trained, are very skilled at their craft, hang a shingle and believe they are legal because that is how it is done in their country. Those cases are handled differently. There are schools that help people in such situations go through the process of obtaining their WA state license. Most of the time not much of anything is required of them to do so other than filling out the paperwork and submitting documentation to DOH. I hope that clears up any misunderstandings that seem to be happening. Nobody is "insecure" about their work and trying to elbow out competition. Heck.... massage therapists often refer clients to one another because there are so many different techniques and modalities! In the massage community we typically don't see each other as competition, but rather as colleagues.
Venice Buhain May 30, 2012 at 01:26 AM
Lavon: thank you for your suggestions. I hope that is something that can be helpful for anyone who comes across this article. Jalene: Thanks for those good points, and definitely there are plenty of cases nationwide where massage parlors have been a front for human trafficking and other unethical practices. However, I'm being careful and am going to stick to discussing the charges that are being brought forward in these cases. I agree with you and think it would be unfortunate if someone were to read this article and assume that *all* Asian massage establishments are unethical, when that's definitely not the case. That's why I felt it was important to list the ones where a massage therapist was accused of breaking the law.
Carmen Lane August 30, 2012 at 07:44 AM
How exactly is it possible for a single legitimate massage practitioner to be UNAWARE his/her coworkers at the "spa" are prostitutes? I don't believe it.
Carmen Lane August 30, 2012 at 07:48 AM
Your argument is invalid. I don't give a hoot how "skilled" some of these people may be in Asia. Welcome to America. If you are unlicensed and are performing massage to clients for money, YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW. Go to school, take the state's tests, and get licensed and ins:ured properly. The argument that massage is thousands of years old, blah, blah, blah, does not fly. Women have been giving birth for a hell of a lot longer than that. But I would still have to be licensed in order to be a midwife. Because that is the law! The people who are arguing IN FAVOR of these unlicensed massage businesses and unlicensed individuals are a huge part of the problem. Supply and demand. People who demand cheap, unlicensed massages (or in the case of this article: sex!) apparently know they can get it from any number of Asian "spas". How many raids does it take on these illegal/unlicensed Asian foot massage/ reflexology businesses who are simply FRONTS FOR HUMAN TRAFFICKING & PROSTITUTION. I cannot wait for the new reflexology laws to kick in. These illegal/unlicensed businesses and operators need to be SHUT DOWN.
Lavon Watson August 30, 2012 at 08:24 AM
Rather than just complain about these issues I have actively spent the past several years trying to affect them. The new rules regarding reflexology, that go into effect in July 2013 were a direct result of my introducing Washington Engage, an anti-trafficking non-profit organization, into the process. Their collaboration with the AMTA ultimately led to the passage of Senate Bill 6103, as well as House Bill 1133 (an update on the rules for advertising) during the previous legislative session. Whether or not these two pieces of legislation positively affect this situation remains to be seen, however many of us are committed to doing whatever needs to be done to address this problem. I know it's hard to believe that LMPs could find themselves working in a practice with someone without a license, or even engaged in sexual services, but I have seen it on several ocassions.
Lavon Watson August 30, 2012 at 08:31 AM
I too am extremely unhappy about the situation we find ourselves in here in Washington, and all of this has created an environmet where consumers who are seeking sexual massage (they call themselves hobbyists) pose a risk to licensed and unlicensed therapists alike. Just two days ago an LMP in Bellevue was sexually assaulted by a male client at knifepoint after rejecting his sexual advances. My suggestion is to stop complaining and get involved, or expect nothing to change.
Venice Buhain August 30, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Carmen, Lavon, Thanks for your comments. It's so strange that the recent massage parlor arrests included prostitution charges, and about a week later, a massage therapist was sexually assaulted after rejecting a customer's sexual advances. While the timing could be a coincidence, I think the community is certainly connecting the two cases. I received a heartfelt anonymous note that said while the police are doing a good job cleaning up dirty spas, the writer hoped that people would rally behind massage therapists that are doing the right thing (and in this case, rally behind a massage therapist who stood up for herself).
Frankie Tsang June 05, 2013 at 10:11 AM
I don't think this is about counterfeit credentials at all. It's about not having strict enough local ordinances and state laws in place to combat this plague of massage/prostitution shops. This will be a temporary fix, but they will be back in business in no time. I would suggest that local and state attorney general should contact the Polaris Project and get technical assistance in drafting appropriate legislation and looking at what other states are doing to combat this very serious problem. It is not only adding to the criminal element but it is detracting from the tax base and we all know that taxpayers feel overburdened now. It is a public safety concern when unlicensed and untrained individuals attempt to muddle their way through a therapy session. Consumers are entitled to have someone trained who can help, not hurt. For example, can you imagine the damage that could result from someone walking/cracking your back if you actually had a herniated disc and the "therapist" had no training to recognize such possibilities?? Legitimate and properly licensed massage therapists are welcome in ANY community, but not those that are fronts for prostitution or potential permanent injuries.

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