Five charged in alleged prostitution ring in Utah massage parlors
Crime • Four men, one woman are accused of operating business from massage parlors.
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Four men and one woman are facing human trafficking and other felony charges for allegedly operating a prostitution business from a pair of Utah massage parlors.

The charges come one week after a joint federal, state and local law enforcement task force arrested three men and took 10 young women into custody as part of an investigation into an alleged Mexican-based human trafficking and prostitution operation.

The Utah Attorney General's Office filed charges against Luis Daniel Arano-Hernández, Juan Manuel Arano, David Ramírez-Jiménez, Manuel Zapata and Vanessa Melendres on Thursday in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court. All are Mexican citizens, according to prosecutors.

The charges include counts of first-degree felony human trafficking, aggravated exploitation of a prostitute and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, along with second-degree felony charges of exploitation of a prostitute. Each of the five defendants faces a different number of counts and combination of charges, court papers show.

Court filings allege that between April and November, the five business associates operated a prostitution service out of two Salt Lake area massage parlors known as "Rico Reiki."

The women engaged in providing prostitution services are believed to have been undocumented immigrants and/or under the age of 18, court papers say.

In a probable-cause statement included in the court filing, a female identified only by the initials M.R. said she was recruited into prostitution at age 17 by Arano-Hernández. In her statement to investigator Mick Spilker, the teen said she was forced to sign a contract and that Arano-Hernández threatened to harm the woman's family and have her deported if she failed to participate in prostitution.

The teen also told police that Arano-Hernández had also arranged for her to obtain a fraudulent Social Security card and a permanent resident card with a birth date that made her an adult, court papers say. M.R. also told investigators Arano-Hernández had told her not to call police after she was allegedly raped by a massage parlor client, court papers say.

Prosecutors have filed 10 felony charges against the 29-year-old Arano-Hernández — more than any other single defendant. An initial court appearance is set for Wednesday before 3rd District Judge Su Chon.

Arano-Hernández, the 42-year-old Zapata and the 24-year-old Ramírez-Jiménez were arrested on Nov. 29. All were being held in the Salt Lake County Jail without bail on federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold orders.

Court hearings for Zapata and Ramírez-Jiménez are also set for next week.

Court records show arrest warrants had been issued for both Arano, 32, and Melendres, 21, on Thursday, but neither appeared to be in jail Friday night.

jdobner@sltrib.com

@jenniferdobner