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Two men charged in dozens of massage parlor robberies in Southern California

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Two men who are believed to have targeted dozens of massage parlors in a string of robberies were charged in federal court on Tuesday. Lucky Health Therapy was one of the businesses targeted.
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Two men who are believed to have targeted employees and customers in dozens of massage parlor robberies have been charged in federal court.

One of the men admitted to carrying out 50 to 60 robberies of massage parlors in Southern California, according to federal prosecutors.

The suspects, 28-year-old Andy Cuellar of Hawthorne and 27-year-old Arturo Morales of Downey, were arrested Friday after they held up several employees at a Torrance massage parlor, according to a 15-page indictment filed Tuesday in the Central District of California.

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Cuellar and Morales were unaware at the time that a law enforcement task force was tailing them as they drove from Compton and then got off the 110 Freeway in Torrance. Cuellar was driving a black 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee allegedly linked to at least 12 other massage parlor robberies committed over the last month, prosecutors said. The Jeep was registered in Cuellar’s mother’s name.

On Friday, Cuellar and Morales stopped in front of various massage parlors, but Cuellar spent only a few seconds inside the businesses before he walked back out to the Jeep, according to the indictment. Around 8:30 p.m., Cuellar walked into Lucky Health Therapy in Torrance and acted like a customer, according to surveillance footage reviewed by investigators. He was led to a back room by an employee, and Morales soon followed through the door that Cuellar held open in the back of the business.

Cuellar was armed with a knife and Morales was armed with a .38-caliber pistol, according to investigators.

An employee tried to run out of the business, but Cuellar caught her in the parking lot and pulled her by the hair back into the business, the indictment said.

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A few minutes later, both suspects allegedly left the business carrying multiple bags. Employees told investigators who approached the business that they were robbed but couldn’t call 911 because two men stole their belongings, including their phones.

Police found Cuellar and Morales at a nearby gas station, where they were allegedly sorting through the items stolen from the employees, according to prosecutors. The suspects ran when police approached the Jeep with their lights and sirens on. Morales was caught in a nearby intersection with roughly $4,000 in cash in his possession, and Cuellar had about $400.

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Cuellar was wearing a Dodgers baseball hat, eyeglasses and distinct white boots, according to investigators. A suspect in two separate massage parlor robberies was wearing the same outfit, court records show.

Investigators found the handgun that they believe was used during the robbery; it was loaded with a chambered round and was reported stolen in 2018.

One of the employees at Lucky Health Therapy identified Morales as the person who used a gun during the robbery. Another victim said Morales waved the gun around to get more from the employees and Cuellar told him that they had enough, according to investigators.

Later that night, only one victim was able to identify Cuellar as one of the alleged robbers, while another victim couldn’t identify either of them.

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Cuellar told investigators he borrowed his gun from a friend, because “when you have a gun nobody fights with you,” according to court records. He also admitted that he and Morales robbed several massage parlors in November and December with another accomplice whom he did not identify, but he said he has personally been involved in 50 to 60 massage parlor robberies. He was out on federal probation for a narcotics conviction when he robbed the Torrance massage parlor, investigators said.

Prosecutors charged the two men with interference with commerce and use of a firearm during a crime of violence. The men were arrested as part of a sting operation that involved the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Orange County Violent Crime Task Force.

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It’s unclear whether the men have any legal representation. They are expected to be arraigned in the coming weeks.

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