Police in Palmer Twp., Northampton Co., have put a spa out of business, saying that it was a front for prostitution and may even have ties to organized crime.
The investigation of the Happy Forest Spa has been going on for two months. Some neighbors said they saw New York City cabs dropping off workers.
"I thought, 'why is the entrance in the back of the building and why is it so gloomy looking,'" said Sandi Bulette, a woman living in the neighborhood. "That was my impression.”
In a written statement, Palmer Township police said the spa has been under investigation for two months due to numerous complaints of prostitution activity.
"You couldn't miss it. It was in your face, pretty much,” said Rosemary Pugliese, owner of New Attitude Salon and Day Spa.
Pugliese's business is located right in front of Happy Forest Spa, which is off William Penn Highway at the Village at Stones Crossing.
When Happy Forest opened in April, Pugliese said she knew something was wrong.
"At first, I was a little confused when I saw them going into business because of being a spa," added Pugliese. "A spa and a spa in the same retail center is unusual.”
Detectives said Asian massage parlors are a problem in eastern and central Pennsylvania.
"These AMPs often appear to be independently operated but all have ties to Korean organized crime elements based in Flushing, N.Y.," said Palmer Township Detective Jim Alercia.
"The girls were coming and going and they were in New York City cabs," said Pugliese. "So it was pretty clear that they were not local girls."
"I just think it's not nice," added Bulette. "It's a good neighborhood and why make it look bad for us?”
Police said the female operator of the spa is from New York, and one worker was detained.
Investigators also confiscated several items and then closed the Happy Forest Spa for good.
"It was a concern for me as a business owner," added Pugliese. "I was doing massages, but I no longer did them because I didn't want their customers to get confused with what we did here.”
The case is still under investigation.
Investigators said the worker detained was released, and she and the owner of the building are cooperating with police.