Up until May 29 a now vacant building behind a local brew-pub on Third Street Southeast operated as "The Mann's Club," a massage parlor offering a little something on the side to its card-carrying, VIP regulars.
The business was the first "house of prostitution" to be shut down in Minot in recent memory.
A customer would come in, meet with Trina Ngyuen, a police affidavit filed by Sgt. David Goodman of the Minot Police Department asserts, and then be escorted to a locker room to take a shower. The customer would then be escorted through the dimly lit building to one of four to six separate rooms, with a bare mattress on the floor.
This corner building on Third Street Southeast, now vacant, was a massage parlor known as “The Mann’s Club” that allegedly specialized in prostitution through a human trafficking operation.
Today, the building has a building permit taped to its glass main door by its owner, Royal Renovations of Clear Lake, Minn. The company specializes in restoring buildings damaged by disaster events, like the 2011 Souris River flood.
Looking through the window, the floor is bare and the ceiling is industrial and warehouse-like.
When it was The Mann's Club, nothing inside was visible from the street. Paper was taped to the inside of all the windows and no signage existed, outside a "TMC" printed on one of the sheets of paper, to advertise the business even existed.
Trina Phuong Nguyen, 31, appeared before Northwest Judicial District Presiding Judge William W. McLees Wednesday morning for her pre-trial conference for the charge of human trafficking, a Class A felony.
A Class A felony carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $20,000 or both.
She had managed and owned the Minot massage parlor, The Mann's Club, where prostitution was allegedly performed.
The pre-trial conference was continued, by request of her attorney, Gregory Scott Hoover, of Washington state, to Oct. 16 at 10:30 a.m.
"I've only received new witness names today and I need to do further investigation on the case," Hoover said.
Ward County Assistant State's Attorney Nikos Berkowitz, who was sitting in for Kelly Dillon as prosecutor because Dillon was in trial, said that he had no problem with the continuation.
Berkowitz did, however, make a motion to revoke bond because Nguyen had missed her twice-daily check-ins with the Ward County Sheriff's Department, a requirement of the 24/7 state sobreity program attached to her bond order. The 24/7 program is usually used to make sure those convicted of an alcohol-related crime stay sober, but was used in this case to determine that she was still within the county.
Nguyen had taken up residence with a friend in Dickinson, roughly 170 miles away, after being evicted from her home in Minot. She had also gotten a job at the dry cleaning business owned and operated by her friend.
Hoover said that, being an out-of-state attorney, he was unfamiliar with the geography of the state and hadn't realized that her new residence was "a long distance to go back and forth twice a day." He said had he known, he would have filed a motion to modify the bond order to allow for her to be monitored by a global positioning system, or GPS, device rather than the physical check-ins.
McLees said that no modification of the order was needed because the one signed by Judge Todd Cresap in June allowed either method of monitoring be used. Nguyen agreed that she would maintain her residence in Dickinson, with GPS monitoring, until the conclusion of her case.
Her co-defendent, Loc Bao Tran, 31, with a last known address of Corona, Calif., is still at large, according to Lt. Jason Sundbakken of the Minot Police Department. One man interviewed by the police, a client of the parlor, said he believed Tran was Nguyen's husband when he met them.
Instead, ads like "New HOT ASIAN UlTiMaTe ReLaXaTiOn EvErYtHiNg & AnYtHiNg 21," ran on escort classified-ad website BackPage.
According to an anonymous man referred to as "John Doe II," one of several male customers the police spoke with, a woman was waiting for him in the room after his shower, where he was given a massage and more.
The police were tipped off in late February to the operation by a former tenant of Nguyen's. The unidentified man reported that she had threatened to kick him out of the shop space he rented from her for his roofing company.
He told police that at least three other Vietnamese females worked for Nguyen and that she tried to convince him to become a member of the VIP club, and that the girls had sex for money and did not really give massages. At the time of the police inspection, only one woman in addition to Nguyen was on the site.
Another John Doe said that each of his visits to the club was the same, and with the same woman: "a massage followed by intercourse." He would be asked by the woman, following the initial massage, "one, two, or three," in which he selected "three," presumably the highest level of additional service.
The prices for the various levels were revealed by another client from $100 to $400, depending on the sex act.
"There seems to be an increase in prostitution locally, and I can't relate it to anything specifically," said Lt. Jason Sundbakken, who directs the investigative unit of the Minot Police Department. "I can't say that it's related to oil or anything, but there does seem to be an increase in prostitution in and around town."
Specific arrests numbers for prostitution were not available from the department immediately.
In 2011, there were 16 arrests state-wide for prostitution. That number more than doubled to 35 arrests by the end of 2012.
"There has always been a certain level of prostitution but it was on the downlow," Sundbakken said. "In the last couple of years we have noticed it has been more prolific and a little bit more obvious. It's not like the big cities with girls walking the streets but it's a bit more obvious than it used to be."
Obvious such as the blatant advertising on sites like BackPage, which is where some of the John Does interviewed said they had found The Mann's Club. The ads would often be accompanied by young, Asian women in alluring poses, with some bare-chested.
The women allegedly servicing the customers were all of age. Human trafficking is a Class AA felony if the victims are under age, and Nguyen is only charged with a Class A felony.
"It used to be that you'd hear about prostitution and you'd hear about Chicago and Milwaukee and now many of those women are talking about western North Dakota," Sundbakken said. "There seems to be a circuit ... Not to say it's the same girls, but it seems to be the same pattern, routine."