By Anne O'Connor
AYER -- The owner of a reflexology business was arrested about a week after the police department received the first of two or three tips that the reflexology store was offering more than foot rubs.
A 60-year-old woman was arrested April 25. She was charged with providing sexual conduct for a fee and keeping a house of prostitution following an investigation led by Detective Kellie Barhight.
Guoying Pu was living in a room in the back of Sofia's Reflexology and had a makeshift kitchen to the side, said Police Lt. Brian Gill. The business was in a strip mall near St. Mary's Church.
When the tips came in, the department was ready to respond because of training provided by the Attorney General within the last year.
"We learned this is common in businesses like that, the non-legitimate ones," Gill said.
Trafficked women may be set up at a location and told to start bringing money in, he said. In some cases the human trafficking victims are set up at a location and appear to be good business owners.
Since reflexology does not require a certification, those parlors can be suspect, he said. Advertising is often done online, on sites that use code words for illegal services.
Barhight staked out the business with plate glass windows partially covered with purple curtains.
"We ended up working with an undercover officer from another agency," Gill said. The officer went in for an appointment, leaving his phone on speaker so the team could listen for a code word to hear if the officer ran into trouble.
When the treatment started to get a little too personal, he said the word.
The human trafficking task force from Homeland Security was involved, Gill said. They had a Chinese-speaking officer.
"They knew about her," Gill said. The task force ended up running her information and found that she had made an application.
Pu was the only worker at the Ayer store. She also ran afoul of the law in Oklahoma, where she racked up a prostitution charge, Gill said.
Gill credits observant citizens with bringing the problem to the police department. This is the first time in his years with the department that something like this popped up in town.
"It's a partnership with the community, keeping the community safe," he said. "Without tips we might not have picked up on this for a while longer."
The building inspector posted a cease-and-desist notice on the front door. The building owner had no idea what was going on and was shocked when the arrest was made, Gill said.
Pu was brought to Ayer District Court and held on $1,000 bail.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.