SPOKANE--The Operation Red Light investigation started more than 18 months ago and it continues unfolding to this day.
It was July of 2011, when officers with the Washington State Gambling Commission first launched a joint investigation with Northern Quest Casino.
Special agents went undercover, posing as “Johns” and ordering prostitutes from the website Backpage.com. The meeting place was often Northern Quest Casino.
By September, the agents were working with two women who admitted they routinely engaged in sex for money. Documents show they posted ads for sex on Backpage or SpokaneBoard.com. The women paid $3 per ad, or $25 a month, with 40% of their earnings, the girls said, going straight to the website's operator Tod Russell.
Authorities spent months tracking credit card transactions and gathering evidence. That led them to several massage parlors, known as Asian spas, all over Spokane and Spokane Valley.
Customers would pay a door fee to see a girl, then a large tip for what's called "full service", meaning sex.
Special agents continued monitoring these spas with confidential informants on the inside and surveillance of the owners, including GPS tracking.
In July 2012 agents raided eight spas and arrested all of the owners. Spokaneboard.com operator Tod Russell was also arrested. All are facing multiple charges, including promoting prostitution and money laundering.
Russell and the spa owners are still awaiting trial.