BRANDON, Fla. - More than 80 massage therapists from around the state got their licenses suspended Wednesday in an apparent attempt to crack down on human trafficking.
Governor Rick Scott, along with local anti human-trafficking organizations and local law enforcement, made the announcement at a news conference in Tampa.
Officials say the suspensions are the result of an investigation into therapists fraudulently obtaining licenses by paying off a massage school employee in exchange for a transcript used to get a state license.
While no arrests have been made, officials fear many of the 81 therapists may be involved in human trafficking.
"The public should be aware that sometimes when they walk into these businesses, there's people in there that are providing them services that are really enslaved," said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County.
Of the 81 licenses suspended, three are connected to the bay area, including massage therapist Lin Hu.
Hu listed the address of a massage parlor in Brandon, Blue Danube Spa. The parlor remained open late Wednesday evening.
An employee at the business said the owner is not around and she did not know of a Lin Hu.
Nearby business owner, Jeff Martin said he's frequently seen "shady activity" at the parlor at all hours of the day.
"You can tell it's undercover but I think they've been doing it for a long time," he said.
Since the investigation is still in progress, officials at today's news conference would not provide specifics on the connection to human trafficking or prostitution. But Governor Rick Scott left with a clear message:
"If you want to break the law, if you want to prey on the vulnerable, if you're anyway involved in the business of human trafficking, you don't want to do it in Florida," he said.
The local human-trafficking task force says Florida is ranked third in the country as a destination for human trafficking. The state plans to release more information on the investigation in the coming weeks.
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