Brian Middleton

Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton speaks during an Oct. 7 news conference at the Fort Bend County Justice Center in Richmond. (Photo by Stefan Modrich)

Last month, officials with the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office and several law enforcement agencies announced they’d joined together to target and take down illicit massage businesses in the county.

As part of the operation, investigators executed search warrants at 10 locations across five Fort Bend County cities, according to a district attorney’s office news release.

But a follow-up open records request has shown that, thus far, the operation has yet to result in any arrests or charges.

“There are currently no charges that came out of that particular operation,” Assistant District Attorney Mark LaForge, the civil division chief, wrote in response to an open records request filed by the Fort Bend Star. “It is an ongoing process/investigation. Any eventual arrests would be public information and available on the district clerk’s website.”

Wesley Wittig, spokesperson for the office, in the days after a press conference celebrating the operation was reticent to release more information about it, or even release a list of those arrested and what they’d been charged with, saying it was an ongoing investigation.

“I know it’s vague, but is an ongoing investigation and our office cannot provide more details,” he said. “Typically, we hold a conference at the end of an operation, but this topic was important enough that the need to put illicit massage businesses on notice was paramount.”

Prosecutors have argued that all pertinent details would jeopardize the integrity of the investigation, and that the press conference was meant to put illicit massage parlors on notice.

While investigators have yet to make any arrests in connection to the massage parlor operation, at least one Fort Bend County community has acted to stamp down on illicit businesses.

The Richmond city commission last week adopted an amendment to its unified development code to include a condition use permit requirement for massage establishments, forcing them to adhere to specific design and operations requirements that will make it harder to run illicit operations, said Michelle Moore, spokesperson for the city.

The new requirements would force massage parlors to admit law enforcement when asked and keep transparent windows and only operate during the day, among other changes.

The move came after officials with the district attorney’s office gave a speech about illicit massage businesses, Moore said.

“Illicit massage businesses are found in almost every city in Fort Bend County, so it is essential cities and counties incorporate these conditional use permits to make it more difficult for these businesses to exist,” said Rhonda Kuykendall, chair of the district attorney’s human trafficking team.

Because the district attorney’s office declined to release more information about the operation, it’s not yet clear exactly how many illicit massage parlors are active in Fort Bend County.

Wittig late last week said he had no further updates about the operation, but that it had gathered evidence to further an investigation that remains ongoing.

Law enforcement experts estimate there are about 9,000 active illicit massage businesses operating across the country, generating anywhere from $2.5 billion up to $4.5 billion, or about a fourth of the total massage services industry’s $16 billion in revenues, according to a Forbes article citing the latest studies.

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