SOUTH BEND — Undercover St. Joseph County Police officers were offered sex and found pornographic DVDs at four area massage parlors during a human trafficking investigation, newly filed court documents say.
Though there have been no arrests made or charges filed in the two weeks since officials announced they served a series of search warrants, the documents reveal additional details of the investigation, including the owner of the stores.
When police searched the massage parlors on June 20, they found 12 women apparently living in the shops and believe at least some were being forced to work against their will and reported sexual abuse. Police also seized more than $88,000 in cash from the massage parlors and the house of the owner of the businesses.
Court documents, which were filed in late June to establish probable cause to confiscate the money, also say detectives found women’s underwear and instructional DVDs on how to perform oral sex when they searched the trash at the parlors.
Previous coverage on trafficking investigation:St. Joseph County police search massage parlors in human trafficking investigation
The documents say undercover officers went to each of the massage parlors in December, March and June and paid for a massage. At all four locations during those visits, the officers were “advised of sexual services that they may receive in addition to their massage” for an extra $40 to $60. The detectives did not engage in sexual services, the document states.
Officials have said the investigation began after getting tips from residents that the women working in the stores did not go home at the end of the day and appeared to be sleeping in the parlors.
Troy Warner, an attorney for St. Joseph County police, said it will likely be a “couple months” before detectives complete their investigation, which involves examining financial documents and setting up interviews with other potential witnesses. St. Joseph County Sheriff Bill Redman has previously said two of the women are fully cooperating with police, though they speak only Mandarin Chinese.
Local police:Up to 12 women may be victims of sex trafficking at St. Joseph County massage parlors
Police also are looking into the possibility of tax evasion, as the massage parlors were allegedly not paying sales tax.
The court documents also identify the owner of the massage parlors as James Belkiewitz and say police have been investigating his businesses on suspicion of human trafficking and tax evasion for about a year and a half.
The documents do not detail Belkiewitz’s role in the alleged criminal activity other than to say he owns the parlors and may have driven some of the women to Flushing, N.Y., so they could wire money back to China.
Indiana business records also list Belkiewitz as the registered agent for all four massage parlors. The records list the principal office address for the companies as one of the parlors on Indiana 933.
The massage parlors raided by police are:
• Best Chinese Massage at 50795 Indiana 933 north of Roseland
• Top Oriental Massage at 421 N. Hickory Road in South Bend
• Best Oriental Massage at 12670 Indiana 23 In Granger
• The Relax Spa at 2614 S. Michigan St. in South Bend
Police also raided Belkiewitz’s home on Buckhorn Drive in South Bend and seized nearly $32,000 in cash there, the court documents say.
A reporter left messages at multiple phone numbers listed for Belkiewitz but received no response as of Thursday afternoon. The Tribune does not normally name people who have not been charged with a crime, but Belkiewitz has been identified as the owner of the shops in public documents and has had more than $88,000 seized by police from his businesses and house.
Other St. Joseph County crime news:Members of Proud Boys hate group disrupt LGBTQ-themed event at Tutt Branch of library
Indiana law allows law enforcement to seize property or money if it leads to an arrest or if a judge finds probable cause that the money was involved in the commission of a crime. Prosecutors submitted the probable cause affidavit a week after the searches and St. Joseph Circuit Court Judge John Broden signed off on the order.
Redman told reporters last month that St. Joseph County police are leading the investigation into both the suspected human trafficking and the tax evasion, though the Indiana Department of Revenue and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department have assisted county officers.
Email Marek Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek
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