Undercover police got naked to investigate 'happy ending' massages

An envelope from the legal affairs unit of Connecticut State Police landed in my mailbox this week and posed some interesting questions about a 2013 prostitution investigation in Salem.

After ripping open the envelope, inside I discovered a series of reports — heavily redacted — that I had requested under Freedom of Information laws back in the fall of 2015, after two women were charged in a raid at a Salem massage parlor. I had forgotten all about the request, with the unspooling of so many news cycles since.

The first puzzle was the timing. How could state police think three years is an appropriate amount of time to legally comply with an FOI request?

I thought maybe it got lost in the mail somehow, finally recovered after sitting in some dusty corner of the post office, then landing in my newsroom mailbox. But, no, the cover letter, citing laws on which the many redactions were based, was dated Aug. 17, 2018, almost three years since I made the request.

The redactions included removing six full pages of the reports as well as the names of all the police officers involved.

After reading what's left of the reports, a strange tale in which the Salem massage parlor was under investigation for months, first by surveillance and then with police detectives going undercover, getting naked and spending sessions on the massage tables, I could see why someone decided it was a good idea to hide the names of the investigating officers.

The exhaustive investigation included officers from Troop K in Colchester, the Salem resident trooper's office and the Statewide Organized Crime Task Force. It's hard to know how many officers were involved because of the redactions.

A search warrant to gather "condoms and oils and sex toys ... on hand to help them practice their craft" was obtained. Police eventually took 63 photographs of the inside of the premises.

The warrant was served in a raid in which one woman subsequently was given a summons for practicing massage without a license and another was charged with two misdemeanors: a prostitution charge and violation of massage license requirements. She paid no fine but got a six-month suspended sentence.

Before the investigation even began, police did research and learned that an FBI investigation into alleged human trafficking at the business apparently turned up no wrongdoing.

In the first phase of the state police prostitution investigation, which included many hours of surveillance, officers obtained five witness statements from customers of the massage parlor, although the redactions make it hard to understand exactly how these statements were obtained.

All five customers gave essentially the same account: The customer takes off his clothes, lies on his stomach for most of the massage then rolls over for what police call "a happy ending."

This is described in precise detail, a sequence of events I can best characterize as perfunctory and uninteresting, less sexually charged than a Bill Clinton encounter in the Oval Office.

The witnesses said they paid $80 for the massage and gave tips afterwards ranging from $20 to $80.

From the police perspective, this was illegal activity, and the investigation moved to the undercover phase, with three different detectives sent in to elicit the illegal happy ending.

The reports make no mention of any arrests of the five men who told police about their happy endings, though police were continuing the full-scale investigation of the women involved. Important undercover work lay ahead.

The first detective to go in stripped down to his boxers for the beginning of the massage, but the woman massaging him removed them and a towel. The massage of his buttocks, back, arms and legs and inner thigh with oil lasted 30 minutes. When she told him to roll over and began the happy ending, the report says, the detective, who was wired for recording, used a pre-set code phrase — "I need to go pee" — and got off the table. He gave her a $40 tip.

The second officer to go in undercover couldn't elicit a happy ending and reported he told the woman giving the massage "I have more money" when the massage stopped uneventfully after an hour.

The third detective, after getting naked and being slapped once on the buttocks, spent some time on his stomach, being massaged, before being told to roll over, and the physical part of the happy ending began.

This began the conclusion of the monthslong investigation, the serving of the search warrant, photographing the massage rooms where the crimes occurred and the arrest of the masseuse.

On one level, the dedication of so many police resources on such a trivial, victimless crime seems preposterous.

On another, it speaks to an apparent low crime rate in Connecticut. This is the most wrongdoing police can root out?

I am most bothered, though, by the response to a Freedom of Information request to state police.

Maybe the Freedom of Information Commission should be asked to decide whether it is appropriate to take the better part of three years to respond to a request and to hide the names of police involved in an inconsequential and long-concluded investigation.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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