SALEM — The defense attorney for a Salem, N.H., woman accused of running a Merrimack Valley brothel wants a police search of his client’s home and vehicle tossed out as evidence in the criminal sex-trafficking and prostitution case.
Lori Barron, 51, of 20 Riversedge Drive, Salem, N.H., is accused of hiring young women who allegedly performed sex acts on hundreds of men at the “The Day Spa for Gentlemen,” located at 7B Broadway in Lawrence. While a client list never has been released by authorities, police and court reports show Barron’s customers to have been school teachers, police officers, firefighters, a city councilor, doctors, lawyers and court workers.
Police raided Barron’s office and Salem, N.H., home and arrested her in June 2013.
Barron’s defense attorney filed a motion to suppress evidence taken during a consent search of Barron’s home and vehicle 16 months ago on June 10, 2013.
In the motion, attorney Francis O’Brien Jr. of Boston alleges Lawrence police officers went beyond their jurisdiction when they conducted the search and any Salem, N.H., police officers who were present during the search of Barron’s home and car were acting as “agents of the Commonwealth” of Massachusetts.
Additionally, O’Brien alleges investigating officers never told Barron that her attorney at the time was a target of the criminal investigation. Barron consulted with this attorney, who is not specifically named in the motion, about the search that day.
Methuen attorney Thomas Torrisi previously represented Barron and was listed in a police report as one of her clients. Torrisi publicly denied the allegation after Barron was arrested by Lawrence police in June 2013. He has not been charged in connection with this investigation.
“However, the police at no time advised the defendant that the person she was consulting with as an attorney was himself a target of the very investigation which brought the police to her residence,” O’Brien wrote in the motion, which was filed in Salem (Mass.) Superior Court Oct. 7.
“The police knew or should have known that the attorney could not independently or effectively advise the defendant concerning her own legal interests when he himself was a target of their investigation and knew he was a target,” O’Brien wrote.
He added that when Barron went to Lawrence District Court for arraignment on prostitution and sex trafficking charges, this attorney was told “that he should not enter an appearance on her behalf, because of his status.”
After Barron’s June 11, 2013, appearance in Lawrence District Court, Torrisi told The Eagle-Tribune that when he showed up at court that morning, a prosecutor informed him he was named in police documents as one of Barron’s clients.
Torrisi denied the allegations.
“I will defend myself from here to eternity,” Torrisi said that day.
Torrisi declined comment for this article.
Due to Torrisi’s situation, Lawrence attorney Anthony Ortiz represented Barron at her district court arraignment. Barron later was indicted by the Essex County Grand Jury and the case was moved to the Superior Court, where the penalties she faces if convicted are more severe, and O’Brien took over as her defense attorney.
O’Brien additionally wrote that there was no probable cause for the search of Barron’s home and car. He said police “misrepresented” to Barron and her family that they could obtain a search warrant for the premises.
“In fact, there were no lawful grounds from which a search warrant could have been issued from either a New Hampshire or Massachusetts Court,” O’Brien wrote.
Arguments were not heard on the motion this week. Barron and her attorney are due back in court Oct. 29. Court records indicated a witness in the case intends to invoke a Fifth Amendment Privilege against self-incrimination at the time. The records do not indicate who the witness is, however.
Young women who worked for Barron told investigators she secretly and illegally taped sexual trysts at the 7B Broadway location and then used video footage to blackmail her workers if they stepped out of line or tried to quit.
According to police, the women who worked in the spa provided police with only job descriptions of the men they serviced, not full names. The workers said Barron kept records of her clients, asking them for identification and having a body guard take down their license plate numbers while they were in the spa.
To date, none of Barron’s alleged clients has faced criminal charges in the case.
Barron, known to her workers as “Nina,” was indicted on seven felony counts, including human trafficking, illegal wiretapping, keeping a house of prostitution and photographing an unsuspecting nude person. She remains free on $30,000 bail.
If convicted of sex trafficking, Barron faces up to 20 years in state prison on each charge.
According to police records, Barron preyed on needy young women, first employing them as receptionists and then “promoting” them to massage therapists and requiring them to perform manual and oral sex for cash. She paid her workers, including an 18-year-old local high school student, in cash and never processed any tax paperwork. She allegedly advertised the receptionist jobs on Craigslist and posted daily spa specials on Backpage.com, police said.
When clients went to the spa, they were required to place $100 cash in a basket Barron controlled, the workers said. In order to obtain sexual services, they had to pay another $100, a cut of which was given to the workers, the workers told police. Barron also told the girls she had a connection with both the FBI and Lawrence police. The names of her alleged connections were not included in police reports.
Barron was arrested and police shut down the alleged brothel last June after an employee reported Barron assaulted her. The woman said Barron pulled her hair and dragged her down a stairway after she refused to allow a client to spank her.
Barron was previously convicted on prostitution charges after she and another woman were arrested in Salem, N.H., in an investigation dubbed “Operation Bunny Ranch.”
Then the owner of ETEA Weight Loss Spa at 282 Main St., Barron was charged with felony and misdemeanor prostitution. An employee, Susan Choi of Derry, was charged with misdemeanor prostitution.
In Salem, N.H., Barron was told to surrender her massage therapist’s license and was barred from opening another massage business in Salem for 10 years.
The “Day Spa for Gentlemen” was located over the state line in Lawrence, about seven miles away.