The owners of three massage parlors in the Twin Ports have been charged with sex trafficking and racketeering.

Shuangyan Yang, 49, and Matthew Shykes, 60, of Hermantown were charged after an 18-month investigation by the department’s sex crimes unit and other agencies.

The couple own Shuangyan’s Spa, 2521 Miller Trunk Highway, and Better Massage, 2304 Mountain Shadow Drive, as well as Superior Soothing Massage, 1225 Tower Ave., Superior.

The charges also allege that Yang and Shykes recruited women from California through an agency or through friends to provide sexual services to clients at the massage parlors.

A search warrant was executed March 21 and resulted in five arrests, police said, but three people were released after being determined to be “employee victims.”

According to the criminal complaint filed in District Court in Duluth on Monday, police first learned of advertisements in late 2017 for Better Massage on backpage.com.

Investigators also found reviews for both Better Massage and Shuangyan’s Spa on another website, which is not named but is described as being used to alert users about “extra” services involving prostitution and other sexual contact, the complaint states.

Based on the review information, officers with the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force performed an undercover operation at Shuangyan’s Spa. During the massage, Yang straddled the undercover officer’s head while wearing a skirt and used the officer’s hand to stimulate his own genitals, the complaint states. When the officer ended the massage, Yang asked him, “Are you the police?”

In early 2018, police received an anonymous tip from a man who said the masseuse at one of Yang’s and Shykes’ parlors had aggressively tried to provide sexual acts, telling the man that “she would get in trouble if she didn’t,” the complaint states. The caller also told police that one of the employees appeared to be underage.

In January, police once again found reviews for the massage parlors, which referenced sexual services and provided a “code” needed to receive them. An undercover officer again was able to “trigger the masseuse to begin engaging in prostitution service” before ending the encounter, the complaint states.

Investigators began conducting surveillance of the three massage parlors over several days. According to the complaint, the only people entering the businesses during that time were middle-aged men, and the only women were Asian employees. Officers also stopped several customers after they left the parlors, and most admitted to having received sexual acts for money.

Investigators also obtained a warrant to place GPS trackers on the defendants’ vehicles, which revealed that female employees were driven between the parlors and Yang’s and Shykes’ townhome. Police learned that multiple trafficking victims stayed in the same bedroom, sharing mattresses on the floor, the complaint states. The women had no driver’s licenses or access to a vehicle.

Several of the trafficking victims told investigators that they came to Minnesota from California to “live with the boss (Shykes)” and that they were charged $10 a day to stay at Yang’s and Shykes’ house, the complaint states. The daily fees were deducted from their wages at the massage parlors, where they worked as long as 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, the victims told police. The defendants provide rice for food, the victims said.

Investigators also discovered the defendants opened a fourth massage parlor in Tennessee in July 2018, with similar advertisements posted online. Undercover officers staged an operation at the Tennessee parlor and received sexual services, the complaint states.

After the couple’s arrests, Shykes told police that he took over the businesses’ finances in 2017. He said employees are moved between the parlors depending on demand and that they are paid in cash. Shykes told police that Yang recruits women from California to work at the parlors. Yang also told police she recruits women from California through an agency or through friends. She also said she owned a massage parlor in California in 2015 and that she tried to open a parlor in Tennessee.

Review of the couple’s financial documents indicated that both Yang and Shykes were involved in running and managing all three businesses and that both shared in the proceeds from the prostitution services at the parlors, according to the complaint.

During a search of the defendants’ home, police recovered about $25,000 in U.S. currency, as well as Chinese currency. Police also have evidence that the couple might have more cash in safety deposit boxes, but execution of search warrants are still pending, the complaint states.

News Tribune reporter John Lundy contributed to this report.