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Posted at 06:01 AM ET, 06/22/2012

Falls Church police run sting on Vietnamese spa owner just before her trial on license violations


Lien Tran in front of her Venus & Mars Spa, where she says she was sexually assaulted. Falls Church police have aggressively investigated her for massage parlor violations ever since. (Tom Jackman - The Washington Post)

UPDATE: Tran’s original trial for her alleged violations in January, set for June 27, was continued to August 22 at her attorney’s request. Lawyer Due Tran said the June 20 police visit to the spa may have been an illegal pretext for questioning Lien Tran prior to her trial, and wanted to argue that before a judge.

UPDATES, 4:45 p.m. Friday: The woman who made an appointment for 3 p.m. Friday didn’t show. Tran said she called the woman Thursday night to cancel the appointment, and left a detailed message, but the woman called Friday morning and insisted on coming anyway. Then the woman called again about 2:30 p.m. and cancelled. I was there just in case.

Also, an acquaintance of Tran’s made an interesting observation about the pending warrant for her trial next week, charging her with operating an unlawful massage parlor. The date of the alleged offense is January 28, 2012 — the same date that Tran reported she was sexually assaulted in the shop and never opened. Not sure if that has a conclusive legal impact on the case — “operating” might be interpreted various ways — but it does seem to add insult to injury.

Finally, I will be on a previously scheduled vacation next week, but we will have another reporter in the Falls Church courtroom to cover the case.

ORIGINAL POST: A Vietnamese woman who says she was violently sexually assaulted in her downtown Falls Church day spa in January continues to be intensely investigated by Falls Church police for allegedly running an unlicensed massage parlor, an accusation she furiously denies.

Just four days after a man allegedly brutalized her inside the Venus and Mars Spa, Falls Church police levied two misdemeanor illegal massage parlor charges against Lien Tran, 42. (Although The Washington Post generally does not identify alleged sexual assault victims, Tran granted permission to publish her name, which has appeared elsewhere.)

No one has been arrested, and Falls Church police are declining to comment on the investigation. They have not circulated photos of the alleged attack taken from surveillance cameras inside the spa.

But Tran's spa operation is still getting plenty of police attention.

One of Tran’s two business permits was revoked in February, but Tran said Falls Church police told her she could continue to do manicures, pedicures and reflexology, a targeted massage in which pressure is applied to certain areas of the lower arms and legs. When Tran went to court in April to fight the illegal-massage charges, the prosecutor was granted a continuance until June 27.


The Venus and Mars Spa, which appears clean and well-lit, is steps from a major road, Broad Street/Route 7, in a new office building. Falls Church police seem pretty sure there’s some hanky panky going on. (Tom Jackman - The Washington Post)

Then on Wednesday, an undercover officer came in, paid cash and received a 70-minute reflexology session, Tran said Thursday. Moments after the officer left the spa, a Falls Church detective walked in and accused Tran of doing illegal massages, though no charges were filed. Tran said she doesn’t have a massage license and so doesn’t do massages .

A group of Vietnamese business leaders met Thursday evening and was considering a rally in front of Falls Church City Hall on Friday, which would not be the first protest by the Vietnamese community there. Binh Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce, said residents were appalled by what they see as deliberate police targeting of Tran.

Tran also said the spa has been receiving an abnormal number of calls from people asking for massages, “happy endings” or “extra services.” Sure enough, while I was standing there, a woman called and requested a massage. Tran told her she didn’t do massages, but the woman wasn’t easily dissuaded. Then the woman, who told Tran she was in Stafford County, called back and insisted on an appointment for body treatment, a yoga-type exercise routine. Tran suggested going someplace closer to Stafford, which is at least 40 miles away, but the woman was intent on Venus and Mars. She has an appointment for 3 p.m. Friday.

The Venus and Mars Spa is on the first and second floors of a fairly new office building on Broad Street (Route 7) in Falls Church. Tran said she had business permits for both floors, but the second-floor permit was revoked by Falls Church police after she was charged with operating a massage parlor without a permit.

A sign as you walk in the front door says, “We do NOT perform massages.”

On January 28, when she was in the spa alone before opening time, she was attacked at knifepoint by a man she’d never seen. She barely avoided being raped, but was sexually assaulted in a long, terrifying attack. Color surveillance cameras captured clear photos of the man, Tran said. Further gory details are in this previous story.

Police took her report, but apparently also suspected she was up to something illegal herself. A detective later told Tran’s lawyer, Due Tran, that there had been two suggestive postings about the spa on Craigslist, which Due Tran said were inadvertent, and three anonymous complaints about massage activity. She was charged and one of her business permits pulled.

When she went to court in April--with a lawyer, witnesses and a court reporter in tow--Falls Church City Prosecutor Dan Conway (a criminal defense lawyer who serves part-time as a prosecutor) complained to substitute General District Court Judge Steven Garver (also a defense lawyer on part-time judge duty) that he wasn’t expecting a “trial by ambush.” Garver gave Conway a 10-week continuance.

Tran said she wasn’t in the spa Wednesday morning when the unknown white man walked in. Jessica Ostrander, the receptionist, said the man asked, “Do you guys offer a massage?” She told him no, “but we offer body treatment. He said ‘OK.’ I told him what body treatment was, that we stretch the body until you have weight loss.” She said he agreed to a reflexology massage.


A sign that greets people entering the Venus and Mars Spa in Falls Church. It advises the salon does not perform massages. (Tom Jackman - The Washington Post)
He went into a side room and Hoa Cao said she went in and asked for payment. The man paid $60. She began a reflexology treatment on him, and said she massaged his forearms, wrists and hands, then his calves, ankles and feet. Tran said Detective Sonya Richardson, who had charged her in February, specifically cleared her to do reflexology.

Tran entered the spa while the undercover officer was being treated. After he left, he promptly returned with Detective Richardson. She said the officer told her he had called earlier and asked to receive a massage, and was told “you guys don’t offer the massage. Reflexology and body treatment. But body treatment is a massage.”

Tran said she turned to Richardson and said, “So you set up a trap for my business?”

She said Richardson replied, “Yep.”

Two clients who were in the spa at the same time were incredulous that she was being accused and offered to testify for her, Tran said..

I asked what had happened with the investigation of her sexual assault. Tran said that after my article in April, the Falls Church police called one morning and said they needed to see her immediately. She said Detective Missy Elliott then had her recount the entire incident again, saying she didn’t remember the part about being held at knifepoint. Tran reminded the detective that she’d felt Tran’s throat that morning. She said Elliott then recalled it, and added, “But I don’t think he did that.”

Tran asked if she could get the surveillance photos of her attacker, since none have been posted and police have not sought the public's help in identifying the man. Initially, she said she was denied, then later was allowed to pick up one photo, but prohibited from distributing it.

She’s had no contact with the investigators since. No arrests have been made.

Her lawyer, Due Tran, said it appeared the Falls Church police were trying to use the Wednesday incident as leverage to pressure her to plead guilty to the earlier massage parlor charges. “A week before the trial?” he said. “That’s improper.”

Listening to Lien Tran’s end of the phone call Wednesday afternoon with a woman who was determined to come in for a massage, while Tran politely, repeatedly told her she didn’t do massages, was bizarre. Tran said it was like a person going into a store and asking for ice cream. “We don’t sell ice cream,” the clerk tells the person. “But I want vanilla,” the person insists, and keeps demanding something the store doesn’t have.

“It looks like they’re trying to get me out of business,” she said. “And I’m the victim.”

More from The Washington Post:

Sheriff’s deputy charged with sexually assaulting inmate

A 1996 sexual assault case has been linked to serial rapist

By  |  06:01 AM ET, 06/22/2012

Categories:  Falls Church | Tags:  Falls Church police

 
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