Due to the adult subject matter in this story, some of the language used in the article may not be appropriate for younger readers. Please be advised.
Less than a month after three female employees were arrested at King’s Spa on South Belair Road in Columbia County on sex-related charges, all of the spa’s signs have been taken down and the doors remain locked.
A large red “For Rent” sign is now prominently displayed in the front window.
“What happened?” a truck driver, who identified himself as only “Tony,” asked a Metro Spirit reporter as he pulled his big rig around the corner of shopping center on South Belair Road. “I was going to come by here for a carton of cigarettes, grab a few hot dogs and get some work done on this cramp in my leg. It gets stiff when I drive.”
“Tony” smirked as he muttered the word “stiff.”
Even he was having a hard time pretending he had no idea what went on behind closed doors at King’s Spa.
Let’s just say, if “Tony” was looking for a professional massage therapist to treat the persistent cramp in his leg, he had come to the wrong place.
Just last month, two of the women working at King’s Spa — Sun Okay Kim, 62, and Mun Sook Choi, 49 — were arrested and charged with trafficking a person for sexual servitude, while Sun Ja Song, 36, was charged with prostitution.
According to the incident reports from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, the three women were taken to jail on Nov. 9 after Song did “knowingly and willfully consent to perform sexual acts for money.”
A few hours later, the sheriff’s office also discovered illegal sexual activity occurring just a couple miles away at Gold Spa on Columbia Road in Martinez.
Officers arrested and charged Chong Huy Lee, 49, with prostitution after she consented to “sexual intercourse and oral sex” for money, according to the incident report.
“These were two separate operations at two separate businesses,” said Major Steve Morris of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. “It was an undercover operation at these massage parlors, Gold Spa and King’s Spa.”
This isn’t the first time employees at King’s Spa have been arrested on similar sex-related charges.
Since 2008, women have been busted for masturbation for hire at least three previous times at King’s Spa, but the spa’s doors remained open until just last month.
When asked if Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle was going to recommend to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners that King’s Spa and Gold Spa’s business licenses be revoked, Morris replied, “The sheriff has not made a recommendation.”
Earlier his year, a violent crime also struck King’s Spa when a 39-year-old Atlanta resident, Damione Aaron Evans, was arrested after allegedly assaulting two of the spa’s female employees, raping one of them, and then robbing the business of approximately $300.
While King’s Spa may have recently closed its doors following the undercover operation by the sheriff’s office, Gold Spa appears to still be open for business.
When a Metro Spirit reporter knocked on the Gold Spa’s front door, no one answered, but there was clearly someone inside the building. There were also two cars in parking lot and the spa’s front porch light was on.
Illegitimate Spas a Longtime Problem
Like many communities across the state of Georgia, Columbia County is faced with problem of how to properly handle these massage parlors, while also protecting the rights of legitimate massage therapists throughout the county.
More than 15 years ago, Columbia County commissioners tightened its ordinance for massage licenses after two spas, Royal Products at 3865 Washington Road and Tokyo Health Spa at 4337-A Ridge Trail, were ordered to be closed by the courts due to illegal sexual activity.
In 1999, three arrests on sex-for-hire charges were made at Royal Products after only one year of operation.
The courts also found that eight arrests were made for sex-related services at Tokyo Health Spa from 1995 until 1999.
Similar problems have plagued Richmond County throughout the years.
In April 2011, Richmond County Sheriff’s Department, along with the FBI’s Human Trafficking Task Force, conducted an investigation of the former Bo Bo Skin Spa on Washington Road.
The sheriff’s office quickly discovered Bo Bo was not properly licensed to give massages, but they were accepting clients anyway.
“Supposedly, they had a license that they could maintain your skin,” Sgt. Richard Elim of Richmond County’s Vice Squad told the Metro Spirit in 2011. “They could scrub it. Clean it. Give you lotions for it. But they couldn’t administer a massage.”
They couldn’t, but they did it anyway.
“Not only did they illegally give massages there, they branched out into masturbation for hire,” Elim says.
Masturbation for hire is the official term for what’s commonly called the “happy ending.”
In the case against Bo Bo, Elim had the good fortune of walking in on a massage at precisely the right time.
“Typically, we get information that something else is going on,” he said. “We have to check it out, and that can involve surveillance, it can involve actually going into a place and purchasing a massage or it can involve a site investigation. In this case, we went in, and while we were inside we went into one of the rooms and caught the process ‘in the act.’”
That act proved costly for Suki Park Laszlo, the spa’s owner, who was not only operating without a massage operator’s license, she was operating without a certified massage therapist.
The women were clearly acting as prostitutes, not massage therapists, Elim said. In addition, he had good reason to believe the offerings went far beyond “happy endings.”
“I’m convinced there was more going on in that location than masturbation for hire,” he said, describing a bag of condoms he found in the room. “Imagine you buy a pack of condoms. Now, imagine having a hundred of those not in the pack, but all lubricated and ready to use in a big plastic bag — just reach in and grab one.”
Bo Bo wasn’t the first questionable operation to utilize the same location on Washington Road.
Years ago, it was home to the notorious Osaka Spa, which was closed along with three other massage parlors during a sting operation in 2002.
Many longtime residents of Richmond County won’t soon forget the very public hearing held before the Augusta Commission to consider whether the city should revoke the businesses licenses of Our Place Too on Washington Road, Peach Health Spa on Deans Bridge Road and Sun Spa on Wylds Road after several employees were charged with keeping houses of prostitution.
Back in 2002, then-Sgt. Greg Smith of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s vice division went before the Augusta Commission to explain why each of the spas had been charged. He was also asked to provide evidence as to why their business licenses should be revoked.
Once Smith started his presentation at the public hearing, it became all too clear that he had plenty of evidence against the spas.
“We were approached by an informant who stated that he had been in the Sun Spa on several occasions and received sexual intercourse in exchange for money,” Smith told the commissioners. “The informant advised me that as long as he went in with the undercover (officer), they would have no problems having sex with any of the people there. That it would be as simple as handing them $150.”
Shortly after, Smith said an undercover officer was sent to Sun Spa on Wylds Road with the informant.
“They both paid $150 to the woman at the door who greeted them,” Smith said. “And actually the spa was so busy that night, it was about a 30-minute wait. There were about five or six cars out front when we got there.”
Eventually, Smith said a young woman asked the officer to come into a private room.
“They already had him (the officer) disrobe,” Smith said. “The female then took her clothes off and offered to have sex with him.”
The officers immediately entered the spa and made several arrests.
“The interesting thing about this spa, they had like a dressing room inside where the girls go to freshen up,” Smith said. “And they also had video cameras at the front door. Next to the video monitor in the dressing room were two copies of pictures of me cut out of the newspaper.”
Obviously, the women were on the lookout for undercover officers, Smith said.
“So, I guess they wanted to make sure they could at least recognize me if I was the one coming in the door,” Smith said, chuckling.
In the case of Peach Health Spa on Deans Bridge Road, that massage parlor was charged with one count of prostitution and two counts of keeping a house of prostitution.
“The undercover officer went into the room and again was told to take all of his clothes off,” Smith said. “A few minutes later a young lady walked into the room, took all of her clothes off and proceeded to give him a massage. Then during the course of the massage, she offered to have sexual intercourse for an additional amount of money.”
The officers entered the back door of spa to make the arrests because video cameras were at the front door, Smith said.
“When we came through the back, the second person arrested, Mrs. Kyong Smith, started yelling down the hallway trying to warn the young lady that was in the room with the undercover officer,” Smith said.
The remarkable thing about the case of Peach Health Spa was that massage parlor had been allowed to reopen in 2000 in the exact space of another spa, then known as Paradise Health Spa, that had previously been busted for masturbation for hire.
Investigators from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office had warned the commission that they were “very concerned” that Paradise Health Spa’s former clientele would return to Peach Health Spa, and that the illegal sexual activity would resume.
Clearly, they were correct.
While the owners of Peach Health Spa and Sun Spa did not dispute the claims against them during the 2002 public hearing, one of the owners of the building that housed Our Place Too on Washington Road was visibly upset by the accusations of illegal sexual activity at his location.
Tom Ryan, the part-owner of the building that housed Our Place Too, looked as if he was going to be sick as Smith explained why the massage parlor had been charged with keeping a house of prostitution.
“We had received several complaints about this spa,” Smith told the Augusta Commission in 2002. “The complaints were the young ladies working there were offering masturbation.”
Smith said as a result of the complaints, the sheriff’s department sent an undercover officer to Our Place Too around 7:40 p.m. one night to see if the complaints were true.
“The undercover officer went in and paid his money for his massage and then he was approached to pay an extra $60 which would have been a total of $120 in exchange for masturbation,” Smith said. “At that point, of course, we went in and made the arrest.”
Yong Anderson, who Smith said was the manager of the spa, was charged with keeping a place of prostitution, while the woman providing the undercover officer with a massage was charged with masturbation for hire.
Smith added that there was no doubt in his mind that Anderson knew her employees were involved in illegal activity.
“She (Anderson) actually, at one point, had walked in on the girl doing the massage for the undercover (officer). And the girl doing the massage was nude,” Smith said. “That’s one of the things these places do right off the bat when they (the clients) walk in, the women take all their clothes off, which obviously legitimate massage therapists don’t do.”
Smith told the commissioners that, as a result of the charges, the sheriff’s department recommended that Our Place Too’s business license be revoked.
Ryan, who lived just outside of Columbia, S.C., at time, said he had absolutely no idea that the individuals running the spa were involved in any kind of sexual activity with their clients.
“If in fact this happened, these people need to be gone,” Ryan told the commissioners. “I’m a national (massage) instructor. I teach massage at two different schools: one in Columbia and one here. I’m on the National Standards Committee for Ethics and Law.”
He told the commission he was devastated to learn that there were criminal charges against the spa.
“I had no idea that you have the type of problems (with spas) that you have here,” Ryan told the Augusta commissioners. “I can’t believe it. I’ve even been stopped from teaching in the school here in town because of my association with this, which I don’t really have an association. I’m in partnership in ownership of the building. That’s my main association.”
While several of the commissioners sympathized with Ryan, they also pointed out that his signature was on Our Place Too’s business license as secretary of the corporation.
“The only reason my name is on the business license is because I basically built the spa,” Ryan said. “I designed it.”
Then-County Attorney Jim Wall explained that, if Ryan’s name is on the business license, the license revocation applies to him as well.
Therefore, Ryan would have to have an “arm’s-length sale” of the business.
But Ryan asked if there wasn’t any way the city could separate the actions of the spa from his position as a legitimate businessman.
“I’ve been doing massages for over 20 years and have been teaching for over 15 years,” Ryan said in 2002. “I have taken people to Our Place (Too), including students to show them the facility and give them a tour and explain how things are done from an Asian standpoint.”
Ryan just shook his head in frustration.
“I’m quite angry,” Ryan said. “The school contacted me and informed me that I can no longer teach there. So, in fact, this has really impacted on how I generate my funds.”
Wall told Ryan there was nothing the city could do.
“That’s the reason that I always tell lawyers, when they put their name on an alcohol license they better know what they are doing because they run the same risk,” Wall said. “A lot of lawyers put their name on alcohol licenses, and if they are the ones that are holding the license, they are the ones that bear the responsibility.”
At the time of the 2002 hearing, then-Augusta Commissioner Bobby Hankerson said that he had seen the writing on the wall months ago that there would be future problems with some of the local spas because the city was issuing so many licenses for massage parlors.
“We are reaping the corrupted root from the seed that we’ve already sewn,” Hankerson said. “And they are going to continue to come because every time I turn around, we issue a new license.”
The Back-Room Rubdown
Not long after these spas’ business licenses were revoked and the massage parlors were shutdown in Richmond County, Elim said the city developed stricter city ordinances regarding these businesses.
“Shortly thereafter, we were able to work with the city attorney to draft a new set of ordinances where you have to be nationally certified and where you can verify the license,” Elim said. “That cut down a lot of it right there.”
But it doesn’t take long for the average citizen to realize that some of these local “spas” are still selling sex and not massages.
For example, King’s Spa had several suggestive internet ads and Craig’s List posts that emphasized its table showers, body rubs and “pretty Asian girls.”
In fact, there’s even a website that is advertised as a national “sex guide” for massage parlors that has a forum discussing which “Asian Massage Parlor” is better in the Augusta area: King’s Spa or Gold Spa.
Needless to say, some of the descriptions of the activity at the spas are extremely graphic.
“I have had many, many good experiences at King’s,” one man posted on Nov. 21. “I have been reluctant to go since the robbery but I’ve seen quite a few smokin’ hot girls there. Gold is hit and miss with attractive girls. There was one with a big a** and bolt ons that was awesome a few years ago, but not much since. I hear that both places have been hit recently so my upcoming visits have been put on hold.”
But prior to the undercover operation by the sheriff’s office in November, many people explicitly described their experiences at both local spas.
“I thought I’d post about my recent experiences at King’s. Just came from there a few hours ago and I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised,” one man posted on Sept. 14. “This wasn’t my first rodeo at King’s and the last two times I was there last month I was seen by Victoria, I believe. Both experiences were pleasant enough and to my surprise she actually remembered me the second time around. She was easy on the eyes with nice bolt ons and despite the fact that she didn’t talk much she definitely didn’t come off as annoyed or hating life which is always a plus in my book… Her skills were pretty legit. She definitely likes to lick, I’ll tell you that!”
The same man returned a few months later to find a new, young and very talkative female employee working at King’s Spa.
“Hell, she even made jokes about how she wish she had my a** because she doesn’t have one,” he wrote. “I get the massage which was decent enough. When it was time for the flip she asked what I would be having and I said the usual. She leaves, comes back and at this point I can tell that she’s even more comfortable because she’s having a full blown conversation with me as she’s getting herself together (*yes, I know this can be a turn off for some but it didn’t bother me one bit*.) When she drops her clothes I thought to myself, ‘Wow, she actually has a nice body.’ No a** of course, but full natural C’s (another plus because I love them natural), flat stomach with a face to match. Yeah it was about to go down for sure.”
The man wrote that once he got the condom on, he enjoyed the experience even though it did lessen the sensation.
“Never had the best luck with (condoms) due to the lack of feeling, but they’re definitely a must!” he wrote. “Despite this though she didn’t rush a dude or clock watch. Once I was finally done she told me that it didn’t really matter to her how long it took so long as I got mine… Yeah I’ll be requesting you by name next time.”
But a post on July 30 left nothing to the imagination.
“Visiting Augusta and I went to King’s Spa off I-20. Looked nice and new inside,” one man wrote, adding that he asked the host for an hour-long session. “She told me $70… She takes the money and tells me she’ll be back. All of a sudden this young little Asian in a mini skirt with high heels walks in smelling good.”
The man wrote that the woman brought him into the back room to begin their “session.”
“I get face down. She gets naked and climbs on top and starts a nice massage,” the man posted. “Rubbing her t*** on my back. Very decent massage and time for the flip. As soon as the flip comes she puts my d*** in her mouth… She stops after a minute and asks me if I want ‘everything.’ I say yes and she answers $60. I tell her I only have $20.”
After the two haggle over the price for a little while, the woman continues.
“I grab one of my condoms and had her ride me for a while,” the man wrote.
The post only gets even more descriptive from there.
Now, some people may dismiss such forums on websites as merely sexually frustrated men exaggerating their experiences at local spas.
But, as a Metro Spirit reporter learned first-hand in 2011, King’s Spa offered much more than a massage to its customers.
In a cover story called, “Spas in Augusta” in May 2011, a male reporter went to King’s Spa at 2:30 p.m. one afternoon and asked for a massage.
He was told the price was $80.
A pretty Asian woman with long black hair entered the room and asked him to take his clothes off.
After the reporter undressed, the woman told him to lay on the table.
“The table is solid, so I don’t feel her weight on it as she hops up, but I do feel her bare legs open up as she straddles me, then sidles up against my lower back, nestling in,” the reporter wrote. “She leans down into my shoulders and starts to kneed, rocking slowly forward and back. Then she works down my arms. When she’s done working them, she folds them in against my sides and I can feel he softness of her bare legs against my finger tips. She moves back up to my shoulders, and I know the rocking motion is meant to arouse me.”
Then, suddenly, to reporter’s surprise, the massage was over.
“Have nice day,” she whispered into the reporter’s ear as she dismounted from the table.
The session was far short of the hour the reporter had paid for and the woman had only massaged his back.
The Metro Spirit reporter then asked the woman, “What about the front?”
“You want more?” the woman asked. Her voice then fell into to a whisper. “You want…”
At that point, the pretty Asian woman made a motion that simulated sex. It looked a little like a skiing, or a dog paddle, but it was unmistakable, the reporter wrote.
Instead, the reporter pantomime another option, which she pantomimed back.
“How much?” the reporter whispered.
“With clothes or without?” she asked.
If the reporter wanted her to finish the “massage” without her clothes, it would cost him an additional $100, she said.
By the time he got the money out of his wallet, she was already naked.
When the “massage” was over, the Asian woman told him, “Come again. I always here.”
Prostitution Across the Peach State
Now, that’s not a tall tale or an exaggeration.
A Metro Spirit reporter entered King’s Spa approximately five years ago and received sexual stimulation for money.
So, the obvious question becomes, why was King’s Spa allowed to remain open for so long?
At the time of the Metro Spirit’s 2011 article, Major Steve Morris said the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office periodically conducts undercover operations to make sure the law is being followed.
“The way we feel about it — the legitimate massage therapists deserve a respectful environment,” Morris said. “And our citizens deserve to have seedy businesses removed from Columbia County.”
Now, five years later, Morris still believes the undercover operations are continuing to expose these kinds of spas and their illegal activities.
“This is an undercover operation,” Morris stated. “It is part of an ongoing effort to make certain these type of businesses are not engaged in nefarious activities.”
Similar undercover operations and arrests have occurred throughout the state this year.
Just this past April, police in Roswell arrested three female employees of a massage parlor on prostitution charges. It was the second time this year that arrests have been made at same massage parlor called A Spa, according to CBS News 46 in Atlanta.
Such illegal activity at massage parlors has become a growing problem in the upscale Atlanta suburb, the news station reported.
“It takes a long time to do these investigations and put them out of business,” Officer Zachary Frommer of the Roswell Police Department stated. “We’ll finally put them out of business and then they just end up popping up again. If you get a building and you want to open a business, you can open a business. What happens behind closed doors is very hard to prove sometimes.”
In June, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office also announced it had conducted a sweep of its local massage parlors, which resulted in the shutting down of more than a dozen spas that were found to be violating the county’s ordinance.
The sweep also uncovered several business owners, who were denied massage parlor permits due to prior prostitution charges, were illegally performing “massages” in the county, The Forsyth County News reported.
The result of the sweep was that 10 of the spas were cited for violations and five were permanently closed in Forsyth County.
Also in June, three female employees at a spa called the Chinese Massage in Warner Robins were arrested and charged with masturbation for hire.
A few months later, four women were arrested in August following a multi-agency raid at two Macon spas after authorities found employees were offering sex for money, according to the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office, with help from the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, conducted the investigation, according to a news release.
When it comes to sex for hire charges at spas or salons, it appears the Macon area doesn’t take such crimes lightly.
Michael Moore, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, made headlines in 2014 when four defendants were found guilty in federal court in connection with the operation of a place of prostitution and money laundering activities.
The charges against the four defendants, all Korean nationals, stemmed from the operation of the Sedona Tanning Salon, formerly known as the Soft Hands Massage Parlor, in Macon.
The owner of the business and admitted leader of the operation, Hyeon Joo Chae, 45, was sentenced to three years in federal prison for conspiracy to promote prostitution and money laundering offenses, the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated.
Chae, admitted to changing the name of the business and putting its ownership into a “shell” corporation controlled by her when she became concerned that it had drawn the interest of local law enforcement.
In the end, Chae acknowledged that, though the business purported to be a massage and tanning parlor, it operated solely as a place of prostitution, having only one unused tanning bed and no personnel qualified to perform legitimate massage services. Authorities also found that virtually all of the women employed by the business were Korean nationals.
Ironically, Chae had already pled guilty to maintaining a place of prostitution previously in the State Court of Bibb County, but the federal court was able to put her in prison for three years.
“I believe this sends the message to all of the other houses of prostitution in this area that we will not tolerate the ongoing exploitation of disadvantaged people for the profit of a few,” Rebecca Grist, Bibb County Solicitor-General, stated following the verdict.
Bibb County Sheriff David Davis insisted that local, state and federal agencies must work closely together to combat this growing problem in Georgia.
“This case shows the wide geographic reach of these type offenses,” Davis stated. “Partnerships with federal authorities help our local agencies to make much more effective arrests and prosecutions.”
Davis said counties across the state should closely examine the case against Chae and learn from it.
Back here in Columbia County, “Tony” climbed back into his big rig after picking up his order of hot dogs and purchasing his carton of cigarettes at the nearby tobacco shop on South Belair Road.
As he looked back at the dark lobby of the King’s Spa, he said he was disappointed that he couldn’t get a massage that day, but he would find one somewhere else.
“I travel all up and down the interstate and you wouldn’t believe how many of these Asian spas there are out there,” he said, chuckling. “One guy told me that a woman charged him $60 for the massage and another $80 for happy ending. But that’s $140.”
“Tony” just shook his head, insisting that all he wanted was a massage to help relax the cramp in his leg.
“There is no way I would have paid $140,” he said, as he started up his truck. “For that, I’ll make my own happy ending.”