Crime

Only men ever entered the business, so neighbors got suspicious of what really went on

Police shut spa business near Fresno High

Neighbors and Fresno High students react to news that police shut down Lotus Royal Spa on Tuesday, May 16, 2017.
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Neighbors and Fresno High students react to news that police shut down Lotus Royal Spa on Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

Neighbors living near a Fresno massage spa across from Fresno High School have been concerned about the business for a couple of years, especially after a prostitution arrest earlier this year.

They called and emailed their city council member, Esmeralda Soria, and even talked about the business with her in community meetings.

Their efforts finally paid off Tuesday when vice detectives raided the Lotus Royal Spa on Van Ness Boulevard, kitty-corner from Fresno High School.

The owner was not there, and police were told by the masseuses that the door to the business was opened for them before they arrived in the morning by a person they never see. The women then locked up each night, said Fresno police Sgt. Curt Chastain said.

The masseuses were identifed as Huali Wang, 37, and Baoyun Jiang, 57. Both were cited for giving massages without a permit.

The city’s code enforcement division found several violations and turned off the electricity because of a potentially dangerous situation, said Chastain. Police also found $7,000 in cash that was booked into evidence.

The owner’s business permit was revoked Tuesday, he said.

He tried to say it wasn’t his business anymore, that he sold it, but that’s not what the records show and the property owner says it isn’t true.

Fresno police Sgt. Curt Chastain

The owner, Ian Vongphayboun, 54, told police that he was in Minnesota when they reached him Wednesday. Chastain said he will be arrested on a $20,000 fraud warrant from Tulare County when he returns. He also will face five violations of the city’s municipal code, including failure to notify the city of new employees and allowing employees to massage without a permit.

“He tried to say it wasn’t his business anymore, that he sold it,” Chastain said. “But that’s not what the records show and the property owner says it isn’t true.”

The property owner leases the site and Vongphayboun subleases it, Chastain said.

Jeff Bennett, who owns Ampersand Ice Cream, said police visited the business previously, but it continued operating.

“It’s amazing that something kitty-corner from the high school has lasted that long,” he said.

Diane Breuer, who owns the Fresno Art Hub art gallery next door, said police spent about three hours Tuesday raiding Royal Lotus.

She said men would come and go frequently and that residents are “delighted” police took action. The spa was shut down about four years ago, she said, but reopened.

“We’re so glad it’s gone,” she said.

The business has been a problem for years, said Lisa Libby, a 13-year resident of the neighborhood.

“My husband and I have noticed it attracts a strictly male clientele,” she said. “It’s not where you go to get a massage.”

I always felt it was not the place to put this type of thing. There’s a high school and it’s a nice residential area.

Jose Aguilar, Fresno High School neighborhood resident

Jose Aguilar, whose lived in the neighborhood for six years, said the city should restrict the businesses allowed on the site.

“I always felt it was not the place to put this type of thing,” he said. “There’s a high school and it’s a nice residential area.”

Zana Frownfelter has lived down the street from the business for 30 years. “I hope it stays shut.”

She and others have complained to police and Soria, and were told the message would be passed on, she said.

Laura Hicks moved to the neighborhood six months ago. It didn’t take but a few minutes of Internet research to find the business on a website that listed erotic businesses, she said.

She was ready to picket the place, but was advised by a anti-human-trafficking group not to, she said.

“I was appalled it was kitty-corner from a high school and allowed to go on so long,” she said.

Chastain said that police didn’t find evidence of human trafficking or sexual massages on Tuesday.

In March, police arrested a woman on prostitution-related charges while it was under Vongphayboun’s ownership, police reports show.

A license revocation process was started but Vongphayboun appealed, allowing the business to stay open.

During the appeal period, additional complaints were made, Chastain said, leading to Tuesday’s raid.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @3dogbenjamin, Lewis Griswold contributed to this report.

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