Thomas Booska thanked the judge Tuesday after pleading not guilty to a misdemeanor charge. A tenant of Booska's operated a Williston spa, where police say the massage parlor provided a cover story for prostitution.
"Certainly this is a message to Mr. Booska and to other landlords who knowingly allow criminal activity to occur," Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan said.
Donovan says he issued a warning letter last week informing Booska of suspected prostitution on the premises. Undercover officers found the warning didn't stop foul play. Charging documents confirm it's not the first time officers informed Booska of sex services at the spa.
July 2004: Williston police advised Booska of reports of prostitution and reiterated those concerns in December.
April 2011: A tip regarding human trafficking leads federal immigration agents to investigate the spa.
December 2012: An anonymous letter indicates a connection between the business and Chinese Mafia in Flushing, N.Y.
Prior to Tuesday, Booska told us he didn't know what was going on behind closed doors. But court papers indicate he gave rides to women working at the spa and told investigators he checked employees' immigration documents.
After the latest warning, our cameras caught operators and workers packing up. Booska says he evicted them immediately, but moving takes time.
Booska let his attorney, Kurt Hughes, do the talking outside the courtroom.
"We disagree with the way that the state's going about this, but we understand why they're doing it and we'll work together with them to try to find a long-term solution to the problem," Hughes said.
Donovan says they won't be charging the girls or the johns, as doing so in the past didn't help.
"We need to try a new approach and that's exactly what we're trying to do," Donovan said.
He says his staff are more concerned with human trafficking.
"The investigation is going to continue. This is not just a local investigation because it's not (just) a local problem," Donovan said.
Federal authorities are likely to lead the ongoing investigation into the Williston spa's registered business operator Sun Hui Nam, aka Nam Som Yim. But Donovan hopes to give future traffickers no one to work with, by getting landlords and the community on his side.
Investigators also reported that operators would keep the door locked at the business until a customer arrived, and would relock the door as soon as they entered.
Donovan says they've had very little contact with the women thus far, and that's been a pattern with these cases over the years. It's the overriding reason why he's approaching this case differently, hoping the change means the women don't vanish as they did in the past and they can get the support and help they need.
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