Ocean City’s L&G Spa appeared to be shuttered Friday afternoon, with fabric covering the windows. There was no answer when a reporter knocked.
Meanwhile, the 61-year-old woman charged with running a brothel out of the spa made her first appearance in court Friday.
Grace Li, of New York City, is charged with managing a house of prostitution out of the business in the 500 block of Ninth Street. She appeared before Municipal Court Judge Marian Ragusa in Cape May County Superior Court in Cape May Court House.
If convicted, Li could face three to five years in prison. Her next court appearance will be a pre-indictment conference scheduled for 8:45 a.m. Feb. 28.
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Li, who required a Mandarin Chinese interpreter, sat in the courtroom in an orange winter coat, her hair tied back. Ragusa explained the charge against Li and advised her of her right to an attorney.
When Ragusa asked whether she understood, Li nodded, then answered affirmatively.
All of her identification and medical cards were taken away, Li said through the interpreter before asking whether they could be returned.
Ragusa said she doesn’t have control over that but suggested that once Li has an attorney, the request can be expedited.
Li left the courtroom quickly after her appearance.
There is a prevalence in the U.S. for massage parlors to act as fronts for commercial sex operations. More than 9,000 illicit massage parlors are currently operating across the country, raking in an estimated $2.5 billion in yearly revenue, according to a study published in 2018 by Polaris, a nonprofit that works against human trafficking.
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Li was charged Dec. 13 after investigators conducted a search of her business. She was then released on a summons.
Two officers “were offered to engage in sexual activity in exchange for economic value” on Dec. 4, according to the criminal complaint.
The investigation and search came after a July tip to police that alleged prostitution at Li’s business, according to a news release from the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office.
Through the investigation, officials learned that “customers could purchase sexual acts from females inside the business.”
The Ocean City Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations and the county Prosecutor’s Office investigated.