Tonawanda News — Two Chinese citizens were arrested for the unlawful practice of massage therapy Wednesday in downtown North Tonawanda as police continue to investigate a possible prostitution ring being run there.
Haiou Gao, 39, and Ping Zhao, 47, were taken into custody inside the apparently unnamed business on the first floor of 110 Webster St., after several officers arriving in unmarked vehicles entered the premises around 10 a.m., multiple witnesses told the News.
Capt. William Hall said the two women, who entered the United States legally and were in possession of resident alien cards, have not been arraigned because the department hadn't located an interpreter. Police said more charges are pending.
Hall said his department received several complaints of prostitution inside the business, which has only been in operation in a former dance studio, the sign for which still hangs on the building facade, for roughly two months. A search warrant was obtained, Hall said, and two undercover officers first visited the establishment Wednesday, poising as potential clients.
"The officers that went in there did not see anything that indicated any kind of prostitution was going on," Hall said. "We believe there was."
Two nearby business owners who asked to remain anonymous said six month ago they saw items packed in boxes and resting on pallets being carted into the establishment.
They said they never spoke to the Gao and Zhao but would occasionally see them sitting at a park bench along the street "to catch some fresh air."
They also described a third Asian woman, who introduced herself as Lucy, randomly stopping by with supplies during quick visits.
But neighbors became suspicious when they noticed the clientele, which they characterized as "all men," often from out of state, who would park near the establishment in "expensive cars" and "all looked like very well-dressed guys." A surveillance camera also was installed above the door.