A 54-year-old Independence woman has been charged with prostitution after police arrested her during an undercover sting operation at a massage parlor, the second such investigation in a year in that neighborhood.
Fulan Li was charged Tuesday with two counts of prostitution, accused of agreeing to have sex for $150 while providing a massage to an undercover police detective. She was arrested Oct. 26 at the massage therapy business in the 13900 block of E. 39th Street, according to Jackson County Circuit Court records.
Detectives began the investigation Sept. 19 after finding an advertisement for the business on the website Backpage.com. An undercover detective, posing as a customer, arranged for an appointment at the business, where he met Li and agreed to pay her $60 for a massage.
During the massage, according to court records, Li agreed to have sex with the detective for $150. Before the deal could be completed, the detective made up an excuse to leave.
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The detective returned more than a month later, on Oct. 26, and again negotiated with Li to have sex, this time for $180.
When the detective gave a signal to police waiting outside, they entered the business and took Li into custody, along with a nude man and another woman found in a different room.
Li was charged Tuesday, with bond set at $2,500.
The investigation came a little more than a year after Independence police teamed with federal Homeland Security agents to conduct a similar sting at a massage parlor about a half-mile away on Noland Road.
In that case, Independence police had in November 2015 begun receiving complaints from members of the community concerned about a business called Massage Therapy in the 3600 block of S. Noland Road.
In March 2016, police received an anonymous letter that “appeared to be written by a person with limited understanding of the English language” that described the owner of the business as requiring employees to perform illicit sexual acts for money against their will.
Independence police began investigating the business, conducting surveillance and sending undercover officers inside to gather information.
During the first visit by an undercover officer on April 27, “no specific deal was made” regarding sexual activity, according to court documents, but investigators observed that the business appeared to attract only male customers.
Over the next several months, Independence police returned to the business with federal Homeland Security special agents to conduct more undercover operations.
On May 4, 2016, an undercover Independence police officer visited the business for a massage and again reported that “no specific deal was made,” although a masseuse called “Candy” rubbed his genitals. That woman was later identified as Shuzhen Shen, 30, a citizen of the Republic of China, the official name of Taiwan, according to court records.
In the next visit, on May 19, a Homeland Security agent went undercover as a customer and reported that, during another $60 massage, a female masseuse climbed on top of him and touched his genitals, but the agent was not able to broker a paid sex act.
The same Homeland Security agent returned to the business on June 22, and again paid for a $60 massage, this time with the registered owner of the business, 46-year-old Zhe Li. The agent reported that during the massage, Zhe Li touched his genitals but refused to have sex for money, saying, “A lot of girls do this, and make money, but I do massage only,” according to court records.
Four days later, the federal agent returned again for another $60 massage. He reported that Zhe Li again touched his genitals, and that he paid her an extra $40.
Shen and Zhe Li were both arrested later.
Jackson County prosecutors charged Shen with two counts prostitution, but she and Zhe Li both later pleaded guilty to one count of disturbing the peace.
Both women received probation and were required to surrender their massage licenses.