‘Sickening drive for cash’: Prostitution ring busted at Tampa Bay massage parlors, couple among 7 arrested

Hillsborough County

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced Thursday the results of a multi-county prostitution ring operation.

Chronister said “Operation Shared Hope” starting in September 2020 after detectives received a tip about suspicious and illegal activity at a massage parlor, called Simply Massage, in Lutz. During their surveillance, the sheriff said detectives saw only male customers entering the establishment.

As their investigation continued, deputies say detectives found that the owners of the parlor, married couple James Robert Smith and Nan Chen Smith, were running an illegal prostitution ring at the property and were using the business as a front.

According to Chronister, James was a “target of a Homeland Security investigations case involving human smuggling” in 2012 but was never charged.

Deputies say records connected the Smiths to 12 massage parlors, four in Hillsborough County and eight in Pinellas County, in recent years. Detectives also found evidence that the couple and their business associates laundered more than $1 million into their bank accounts, a release from the sheriff’s office says.

Chronister noted that customers would enter the parlors, speak to a manager or “madame,” negotiate which sexual acts they’d receive, and then hand-select the woman who would perform such acts. The women involved in the prostitution ring, who were all above 18 and came from different parts of the country and world, would also sleep at the parlors to “maximize their availability.”

“It’s cases like this where women are being exploited that keep me up at night,” he said.

On Wednesday, law enforcement from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, St. Petersburg Police Department, and Largo Police Department executed numerous search warrants on the Smiths’ home, a storage unit, and the 12 massage parlors linked to them.

According to the sheriff, detectives seized more than $750,000 between cash and cars used in the operation.

A total of seven people, including the Smiths, were arrested.

Chronister said the Smiths had a 5-year-old son, who is now in the care of protective services.

“Just think of the heartache and trauma this young child will now face with both of his parents in jail, where they belong, because of their sickening drive for cash at the expense of exploiting women,” he said.

Below you can find a full list of those arrested and the charges they are facing:

Courtesy of HCSO

51-year-old James Robert Smith

  • Money Structuring over $300 but less than $20,000 
  • Money Structuring over $20,000 but less than $100.000 
  • Money Structuring over $100,000 (x2)
  • Money Laundering over $100,000  (x4)
  • Conspiracy to commit Money Laundering 
  • Unlawful use of Two Way Communications Device 
  • Deriving Support from Proceeds of Prostitution
  • Operating a Place for Lewdness, Assignation or Prostitution 
  • Rico Violation
  • Rico Conspiracy 
Courtesy of HCSO

41-year-old Nan Chen Smith

  • Unlawful use of Two Way Communications Device 
  • Deriving Support from Proceeds of Prostitution 
  • Operating a Place for Lewdness, Assignation or Prostitution 
  • Rico Violation 
  • Rico Conspiracy
Courtesy of HCSO

52-year-old IaoKuan Batista

  • Money Structuring over $20,000 but less than $100.000 
  • Money Laundering over $100,000 (X2)
  • Money Laundering over $20,000 but less than $100,000 
  • Deriving Support from Proceeds of Prostitution
  • Operating a Place for Lewdness, Assignation or Prostitution 
  • Rico Violation 
  • Rico Conspiracy 
Courtesy of HCSO

59-year-old Min Soon Rockwood

  • Deriving Support from Proceeds of Prostitution 
  • Operating a Place for Lewdness, Assignation or Prostitution 
  • Rico Violation
  • Rico Conspiracy 
Courtesy of HCSO

43-year-old Wei Cheng

  • Money Laundering over $300 but less than $20,000
  • Rico Conspiracy
Courtesy of HCSO

36-year-old Lin Wang

  • Money Laundering over $300 but less than $20,000 (X2)
  • Unlawful use of Two Way Communications Device 
  • Rico Conspiracy 
Courtesy of HCSO

49-year-old Tingbo Zhang

  • Money Laundering over $300 but less than $20,000 
  • Rico Conspiracy

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

get the app

News App

Weather App

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss