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Police: Vt. sex trafficking salon shut down - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Police: Vt. sex trafficking salon shut down

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SHELBURNE, Vt. -

There's a new push to rid Vermont of human trafficking. The feds are going after the landlords who rent to commercial sex sellers.

The sign outside used to read "Oasis Hotstone." Now it says "For Rent." Investigators say the Shelburne massage parlor was a front for illegal human trafficking. 

"What you'll see is that the girls will stay there four to six weeks-- gone. Bring in two, three more-- gone," Det. Tpr. Matt Hill of the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations said back in May.  

After seeing an ad posted online, WCAX News visited the business back in May and watched several men go in and out throughout the night. So, we wanted to know what happened inside.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: What kind of massages can you get here?

Woman: It's shiatsu massage. 

Costa: Shiatsu massage. 

The woman who answered the door denied men came there to pay for sex.

Woman: I think there is no problem here. Just a massage here.

Costa: So absolutely nothing sexual happens here?

Woman: No,

But according to court documents, alleged "johns" told police they would pay $80 for an hourlong massage, but 20 minutes into the service would have the option to pay more for a variety sexual services.

"There is no question that commercial sex trafficking does not exist without sex buyers," said Eric Miller, U.S. attorney for Vermont. 

Miller says paying customers in this state make it easy for out-of-state traffickers to exploit young women by bringing them in illegally from overseas to have sex for money.

In July, Oasis Hotstone disappeared. Miller says his office put pressure on the landlord. Federal law requires landlords to take reasonable steps to stop criminal activity occurring on their properties. If they don't, the government can ask a federal judge to civilly forfeit the property.

"In this case, we did not have to file a civil forfeiture action. In working with the landlord we were able to convince him that it was his legal responsibility to commence an eviction action against these tenants," said Miller. 

WCAX got mixed reactions when talking to business owners in the complex. Some say they never noticed Oasis Hotstone was there. Others say it directly affected their businesses, customers refusing to come because of their proximity to the massage parlor. But most say they're just happy the business is gone, as well as the clients it attracted. 

Costa: What happened to the women?

Miller: We don't know. We don't know. 

The feds say their goal is to connect human trafficking victims with social services, but often they vanish before law enforcement can help. 

Miller says the feds pressure landlords across the state.

"If we're successful at that, it will not simply be squeezing it out of one location, so that it pops up somewhere nearby, it will be making Vermont sufficiently difficult place to do business, that we will make a meaningful effect on stopping human trafficking in Vermont," said Miller.

So far, no criminal charges have been filed against the owner or manager of Oasis Hotstone.

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Police investigate 2 Chittenden County massage parlors

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