Pine Spa allowed to reopen as human trafficking investigation continues

By MICHAEL MAJCHROWICZ

@mjmajchrowicz

Published: 03-21-2017 10:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After a three-month hiatus, a Florence massage business at the center of a human trafficking investigation has reopened after fixing the health violations that led the city’s Board of Health to condemn the space.

On Tuesday, the neon “open” sign at Pine Spa, at 176 Pine St., once again glowed above the business’ store front. A Gazette reporter visited the location Tuesday and was told by staff that the business’ supervisor, Enzhe Jin, was on vacation and could not be reached. Others at the business said nobody else could comment.

Pine Spa was initially forced to close its doors Dec. 13, 2016, after authorities reported to the Board of Health that an investigation determined multiple people were living inside the spa, according to minutes from the board’s February meeting.

The same day, Northampton police and the Massachusetts attorney general’s office zeroed in on the spa — and four others in the region — and arrested four individuals who stand accused of running trafficking operations out of their respective businesses.

Authorities also identified at least 10 women who they say were transported from New York and trafficked for sex acts inside the five spas: Pine Spa, Hadley Massage Therapy, Feng Health Center in East Longmeadow, Massage Body Work in Framingham and Agawam Massage Therapy.

The single-family home where Hadley Massage Therapy was formerly located is now rented to tenants who live there.

So how is it that Pine Spa, a business at the center of a criminal investigation, was allowed to again welcome customers?

Jin, Pine Spa’s owner, and Robert L. Ward, an attorney who represents Pun Family LLC, which owns the property, asked the Board of Health in a Jan. 25 letter to rescind its order to vacate. “The property has been cleared of offending items and (is) ready for re-inspection prior to the next meeting …,” Ward said in the letter.

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Public Health Director Merridith O’Leary performed an inspection at the business Feb. 15 and noted that the space had been “returned to its original state,” according to the board’s Feb. 16 meeting minutes, when Ward’s request was discussed.

O’Leary concluded from the inspection that the order could be rescinded after a shower stall inside the business was removed and a toilet — previously taken out — be reinstalled.

At the Feb. 16 meeting, the board voted unanimously to rescind the order, which allowed Pine Spa to once again operate. Detective Lt. Alan Borowski told the board at that meeting that Pine Spa was, indeed, being investigated as a site that may have engaged in human trafficking.

This wasn’t lost on O’Leary and the other board members, O’Leary said Tuesday. But the fact that there’s an ongoing criminal investigation “doesn’t fall under the scope of the Board of Health.”

So long as the business remedied the violations, she added, it could reopen.

“It was very clear to us, from a reinspection, that people were no longer habitating there,” O’Leary said Tuesday. “So we had to lift that condemnation order.”

Reinspection or not, some other businesses that share plaza space with the spa are disheartened by the board’s decision.

“I saw the ‘open’ sign and thought ‘oh my God, not again,’” said Laurel Boyd, who owns Ascendance Inner World Arts, a yoga and dance studio next door.

At most spas, which Boyd said she frequents, “you hear instrumental things that calm you down, not an alarm that tells you when someone’s there,” she said of the jarring chirping that sounds anytime someone walks through Pine Spa’s front door.

Boyd also said that she began noticing people once again coming and going from Pine Spa the “past few days.”

“I’m not comfortable turning a blind eye to any of that,” she said. “We’re definitely keeping a watchful eye out. We will continue to work with police if that’s necessary.”

Borowski said Tuesday that police continue to actively monitor the business.

“I can tell you if we run into any illegal activity going on in that business, we will pursue any legal avenues we can, once again,” he said.

Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at mmajchrowicz@gazettenet.com.

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