LAWRENCE — The online ad sought receptionists, but several women who were hired at the massage studio say they answered phones and took appointments for only a couple of weeks before the owner lured them into prostitution, according to authorities.
“The defendant told the victim ‘you have to do it,’” said prosecutor Kelleen Forlizzi, referring to one of four alleged victims allegedly forced by owner Lori Barron to perform sex acts on male clients at the Day Spa for Gentlemen at 7 Broadway.
Barron pleaded not guilty today in Lawrence District Court to seven offenses, including deriving support from prostitution, extortion, human trafficking, unlawfully recording persons in the nude, and witness intimidation.
Barron, who was convicted of prostitution in New Hampshire in 2011 after Salem police conducted an undercover operation at a spa she owned, allegedly taped the sexual encounters between the clients and her employees in Lawrence, and used the tapes to blackmail her employees into continuing to offer sex for money.
Barron also kept detailed records on her clients, compiling a list that, according to at least one of the victims, contained the names of at least one city councilor, firefighters, police officers, doctors, attorneys, and other prominent figures, Forlizzi said during the arraignment.
Barron was arrested Monday at her house in Salem, N.H. Police searched her home and the Lawrence studio, taking with them two computers, two cellphones, and several files.
Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said those items were handed to State Police to search for evidence, but Romero said it doesn’t appear that any police from his department were ever clients at the illegal business.
Steve Barron, the defendant’s husband, was at the courthouse this afternoon to post bail on her behalf, and would only say, “I completely stand behind my wife.”
Anthony Ortiz, Lori Barron’s attorney, said the charges against his client amount to baseless allegations “made by four disgruntled former employees.”