FARMINGTON — A woman is suing the San Juan County Sheriff and his deputies for what she says was a civil rights violation during a prostitution sting at her Farmington massage parlor.
The sheriff's office defended its investigation into the Farmington business but declined to comment further on the investigation or the pending lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed on June 7 in federal court in Albuquerque.
"The lawsuit is frivolous," said Capt. Brice Current. "We didn't violate anyone's civil rights."
Wei Lu, a 49-year-old Asian-American woman, is the owner of Asian Massage, 203 South Orchard Ave. From August to October 2012, Lu said undercover deputies with the sheriff's office Special Enforcement Team entered the business and paid for $60 massages, during which they tried to get their masseuse to engage in sexual acts, including "hand jobs" and "happy endings," according to the lawsuit.
Lu is suing Sheriff Ken Christesen, former SET director Sgt. Alan Jamison and Jacob Sanchez and David McCall, who are SET members.
"The SET operatives' diligence in attempting to procure sexual favors included stripping to their underwear and being massaged by plaintiff's employees while transmitting their experiences to other SET operatives in the parking lot by covert recording devices," Lu's attorney, Christian Hatfield, said in the lawsuit.
The sheriff's office started investigating Asian Massage in August, when the business appeared on a website that directs people to erotic massage businesses that provide sexual favors.
Sanchez and McCall went to Asian Massage several times in September and October to get massages and look for evidence of prostitution, according to the search warrant served on the business. The evidence the sheriff's office searched for included lotions, lubricants, condoms, sex logs and books to translate words for sex acts to English. It was not clear on Wednesday whether those items were found at the business.
The deputies each received massages and said in court documents that employees offered them "happy endings" for additional tips.
According to court documents, the deputies denied the sexual favors and left the business.
Based on the investigation, the sheriff's office executed a search warrant on Asian Massage on Oct. 30. When executing the warrant, they arrested Lu on suspicion of prostitution and confiscated the business' ledgers, cash and Lu's vehicle. Investigators also spoke with a man who was getting a massage at the business. He said he had received a "happy ending" at the business during a prior visit.
Lu was charged with two misdemeanors for not displaying and having the proper licenses to operate a massage parlor. The charges were later dismissed, and she has not been charged with any additional crimes.
When reached on Wednesday, Lu and an employee at the massage parlor declined to comment.
The lawsuit alleges the sheriff's office violated Lu's civil rights by targeting her based on her ethnicity because other massage parlors and salons in Farmington were not targeted in the sting. The suit also states the sheriff's office wrongfully arrested her and took her money and belongings which violated her rights.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for August.
"I hope one day we can live in a society where this sort of thing doesn't happen," Hatfield said.