Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Woman accused of running illicit NM massage parlors

Authorities accused a California woman of running several illicit massage parlors around New Mexico. One of the parlors is pictured in 2018 at a shopping center in Northeast Albuquerque. (Google Maps)

A California woman is accused of running a prostitution ring through several Asian massage parlors across New Mexico that agents contend raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.

Lily Bai is charged with three counts each of interstate and foreign travel in aid of racketeering enterprises and money laundering related to her businesses in Farmington, Las Cruces, Silver City and Albuquerque.

The allegations are contained in a federal search warrant affidavit unsealed this week.

The 40-year-old, who lives in Corona, California, was arrested March 29 by the US Marshals Service. Her attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Through a yearslong investigation, federal and local authorities say they learned Bai ran eight illicit massage businesses across the state and earned almost $800,000 since 2014.

The IRS, Homeland Security Investigations and Albuquerque police Vice Unit also discovered the “vast majority” of Asian massage parlors in Albuquerque “operate as houses of prostitution,” according to the search warrant affidavit.

Authorities say the parlors are distinct from legitimate businesses, often utilizing curtains to cover storefronts and featuring dimmed red or purple lighting and scantily-clad masseuses who only accept payment up front and work late into the night.

The search warrant affidavit alleges the workers are rarely licensed massage therapists and that they are coerced into performing sex acts to earn money “for their basic living expenses.” Many of the parlors are advertised on sites like www.rubmaps.cn where authorities found a review for Dian Dian Massage, owned by Bai in Las Cruces, that touted how the masseuse “delivered the goods” and allowed him to have his hands “wandering over her clothes.”

“If you can’t handle a sketchy parlor then, don’t go here,” the reviewer wrote.

Between 2017 and 2022, undercover officers were offered sex acts at least eight times at Bai’s parlors, according to the affidavit.

In November and March, authorities say undercover HSI agents visited two Las Cruces parlors where workers offered sex acts that ranged in price from $40 to $140, but the pair “declined the offers — and exited the business.”

Court records state that in 2018 an undercover officer with the Albuquerque Police Department Vice Unit reached out to Bai to inquire about buying one of her massage parlors, according to court records. The agent met her several times and she explained the business.

Bai allegedly told the agent customers pay $40 or $60 up front, which goes to her, and the masseuse can keep any tips. She said the masseuse at her shop in Albuquerque, which has since been sold, lived at the business so Bai doesn’t have to spend money on an apartment.

The court records included a photo of the living quarters, a small room with a bed and microwave on a table. Bai allegedly told the agent a space heater was sufficient for the space since there is no ventilation.

Court records state Bai told the prospective buyer it’s harder to make money with the same girl and suggested having new workers every month. She said the workers use a bank card to deposit $1,000 at a time and the parlors make up to $6,000 a month off six customers a day.

Authorities say Bai and her husband reported income of $24,000 in 2016 but made deposits of $95,000 that year and more than $788,000 since 2014. Bai told the agent the parlor business is better in New Mexico because massage licenses are not checked here but they are in other states.

New Mexico House Bill 155, introduced in 2020, would have required massage businesses to have a license and allowed officials to inspect the businesses for license and health violations.
Bernice Geiger, with the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department, said the bill didn’t pass after massage therapists said it “went too far.”

Bai told the agent she previously sold a parlor after a police raid and has five separate phones, according to court records. She said she and other illicit shop owners use WeChat to alert each other if police are coming so they could close the parlor and avoid detection.

By 2020, Bai had sold her shop in Albuquerque but bought another in Silver City and was transporting a woman from California to work at the Las Cruces parlor, according to court records. Bai told the agent her husband’s cousin had been brought to Las Cruces to work at the parlor there and would use a cash app to send the profits back to her.

In January 2022, Bai told the agent she had sold all but two of her parlors and wanted to open “a real massage store” that can have more tables and make more money.

When the agent asked what a “real massage store” is like, Bai replied, “not this type.”

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