HAMMOND — A federal jury convicted two women Friday afternoon of promoting prostitution at a chain of local massage spas.
Jurors heard three weeks of evidence and deliberated about four hours Friday before finding Rita Law, 58, of Chicago, who ran the spas, guilty of human trafficking and involuntary servitude and Crystal Wireman, 32, of Lake Station, guilty of promoting prostitution while working for Law.
They and Edward Olszewski, of Hobart, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to transporting prostitutes, await sentencing at a later date.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jill Koster and Abizer Zanzi presented evidence Law recruited two Asian women to the United States to work in her massage spas in Gary and Hobart and expected them to perform sex acts for customers.
The case began with a Gary Police Department raid Sept. 3, 2013, of the Duneland Spa, 3549 Broadway, in Gary's Glen Park section. They arrested an Asian masseuse who told investigators through a translator that her employers were holding her passport.
Philip Coduti, a special agent of Homeland Security, traced property records of the spa to Olszewski who admitted he rented the building, did accounting for the spa and helped transport prostitutes from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to work in the local spas.
He said Law also ran a Duneland Spa in Lake Station and the Fun Fun Feet spa in Hobart.
Olszewski told authorities he first met Law when he was a customer of the Duneland Spa when it was in business from 2007 to 2010 in Lake Station and had received sexual favors there.
Olszewski said he had to work for Law without pay, because she had threatened to expose his participation in prostitution otherwise
The government said Law would recruit foreign women on promises they would receive citizenship, marry and have employment.
Once in the United States, Law is accused of forcing them into prostitution in exchange for money from their largely male clientele. They said the women felt isolated, were physically restrained and would suffer harm if they didn't obey Law.
Law's defense team argued she never forced the women to perform sex.
The government said the day they charged Law in U.S. District Court on Dec. 16, 2013, she flew on a one-way airplane ticket to Hong Kong.
Authorities arrested her there before she could escape to Taiwan or Macau and returned her to Indiana, where she has remained in federal detention since.
They arrested Wireman in March 2014. The government said she worked as a masseuse at Law's Gary and Hobart spas and assisted Law in their operation.
The U.S. attorney credited the FBI; Gary, Hobart and Lake Station police; the county Sheriff's Department; and Oak Forest, Illinois, police with assisting the investigation.