Two women were convicted in September in Ellis County District Court in an investigation that was highly unusual for local authorities.

Ya Dong Wen, 50, and Qin Yao, 55, each were sentenced to 12 months probation for two counts of selling sexual relations through Wen’s business, Chinese Massage, which was located at 1700 Vine Street. The location is now an expansion of Fantasy Graphics Tattoo Studio.

Their probations will be unsupervised as long as they remain outside of Kansas. They were last known to be in New York state, Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees said.

The case was a first of its kind for Hays Police Department Investigator Aaron Larson, who has worked with HPD for 20 years. He’s been an investigator since 2011. He and Investigator Joshua Burkholder investigated the case for about six months.

“We’ve had accounts of prostitution, but we’ve never had a massage parlor prostitution case,” he said Wednesday.

“Usually, we’ll have people that come from Wichita or Salina or something like that. You’d call them escorts,” he said.

Drees said he could recall only one other prostitution case in his 29 years in office. He had high praise for the HPD investigation.

Larson said the investigation began with information from the community.

“It was actually a citizen who first approached us and mentioned it,” he said.

According the arrest affidavits for the women, an HPD officer spoke with a man on July 24, 2017, who said two of his friends had received “happy endings” — a euphemism for a sexual act received while getting a massage — at Chinese Massage, then at 1700 Vine. 

Larson contacted the building owner and learned the identity of the massage business, Wen.

Larson found Wen had four previous arrests for prostitution operations in massage parlors by the Harris County, Texas, Constable’s Office, the Houston Police Department and Baltimore County, Maryland, according to the affidavit.

A second woman, not identified in documents from Texas, was arrested in the Harris County massage parlor.

All the cases against Wen in Texas and Maryland were dismissed for unknown reasons, the affidavit says.

In approaching the investigation, Larson sought assistance from other agencies.

“Wichita and Lawrence were a big help,” he said. Although they were busy with their own cases, the police departments there offered advice.

“I contacted other kinds of different agencies — Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, everybody, because I didn’t know if I was dealing with illegals or what their status was in the country,” Larson said.

Larson did learn from Homeland Security that Yao had claimed asylum and was going through administrative judicial process, according to the affidavit.

He also considered the operation might be larger and that the women might not be performing the acts voluntarily as part of a sex trafficking operation.

“I didn’t have any evidence of that, but it was definitely a consideration,” he said.

“I looked at all different aspects. It was very intensive and, for me, a learning experience. I wanted to cover all my bases. I couldn’t find connection to any other massage parlors or anything like that,” he said.

On Aug. 16 and 17, Larson and Burkholder surveilled the massage parlor, observing four men who entered the business during the daytime and questioning them during traffic stops after they left.

Names of the men questioned were redacted to only initials and dates of birth in the arrest affidavits as obtained by The Hays Daily News.

Each man initially denied any sexual contact had taken place, but under further questioning admitted it had happened and offered details to the officers.

None of the men told police they had asked for the sexual acts, but that the woman doing the massage had asked or did so without asking. The men said they had given $20 or $40 tips in addition to the fee for the massage.

On Jan. 31, HPD received the assistance of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in an undercover operation. The agent was given $100 in buy funds by Burkholder and went inside while being monitored by covert audio by another KBI agent. He received a massage from Yao, according to the affidavit, and she also performed a sexual act.

Yao and Wen were arrested Feb. 2.