WOODBURN, Ore. (Woodburn Independent) — Reports furnished to the Woodburn Police Department by two civic leaders last February have elicited some curious speculation, some of which has been baselessly tied to current elections.

Roots to the report date back before the civic leaders stepped forward when Woodburn Police received a report about a spa within the city limits offering services beyond a mere healthy massage. Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson and Woodburn School District Board Chair Anthony Medina on separate occasions sought a massage at the establishment. Each quickly discovered their respective masseuses becoming inappropriately aggressive, and each subsequently left.

Both Swenson and Medina routinely receive therapeutic massages, though neither had previously visited this establishment. Both removed themselves from the situation. Both reported the incidents to the Woodburn Police.

Both also subsequently ran for state offices in the May primary and won.

The incidents

Swenson also serves on the WSD board with Medina, who approached the mayor to enlighten him about his experience at the spa. Swenson later revealed to Medina that he had a similar experience, and they both decided it was best to file reports with WPD.

Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson, undated (Courtesy: Woodburn Independent)
Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson, undated (Courtesy: Woodburn Independent)

A WPD report filed by Cpl. Darlyn Chester notes that Medina has received frequent massages as part of chiropractic treatment for an illness that caused soreness throughout his body. Over the past several years he’s received more that 100 massages, but the primary place he receives them in West Salem had been booked through May.

He had never been to the Woodburn spa. He inquired about the establishment and was advised to walk in. He did and was led to a room to wait.

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Medina gave a detailed description of his experience to the police and elements of it that he felt was out of sync with what a normal therapeutic experience would entail, including parts of the message that seemed overly solicitous. He made it clear to the spa employees that he would not return, and he pondered the correct line of action after what he deemed as a sexual assault.

Woodburn School District Board Chair Anthony Medina, undated (Pamplin Media Group file photo)
Woodburn School District Board Chair Anthony Medina, undated (Pamplin Media Group file photo)

“I asked Anthony about wanting the woman arrested for what had occurred,” Chester said in her report. “Anthony was hesitant and said no, stating that he was concerned the woman was a victim of human trafficking, which was another reason why he wanted to report what happened.”

Swenson said he sought a massage at the establishment one evening because he had arm pain and no other place was open that evening. WPD Det. Linda Hedricks took a similar report from Swenson, who had initially hoped to put the experience behind him, forget about it, but decided otherwise after hearing about Medina’s experience.

Hedricks report stated: “I asked Swenson to tell me what Medina had told him. Swenson told me it was almost identical, he went to the place, got a massage, and it became inappropriate, and he left…He told me it did not occur to him to tell someone. I told him I could see how that would be difficult to say something. Swenson said he was taken by Medina, saying it was wrong and he was going to the police, so he decided to report his experience.”

Consultations

Swenson initially consulted with Woodburn City Administrator Scott Derickson and City Attorney N. Robert Shields, who encouraged him to file a report with the police. Given the working structure of city officials with the mayor and Woodburn City Council, the city officials also recommended that outside representation would be more appropriate.

Attorney Jeffrey G. Condit of Miller Nash advised the city on what records of the reports and cases would be public information.

“Normally you (the city) would make these determinations yourself, in conjunction with the city administrator and city attorney’s office. Because some of the records reference Mayor Eric Swenson, however, City Administrator Scott Derickson and City Attorney Robert Shields recommended that the city seek outside counsel to avoid potential conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict,” Condit reported.

The report itemized various disclosure laws and circumstances that negate disclosure, including an ongoing police investigation or personal privacy that could be compromised. Condit provided similar cases where disclosure issues emerged in determining what records the city could share.

“Given Mr. Medina’s and Mayor Swenson’s positions as elected officials, I think it is highly likely that the district attorney would order disclosure in this circumstance…I do not recommend invoking this exemption.”

The report added that: “The mayor and Mr. Medina voluntarily came forward with the information about the massage business at obvious personal reputational risk in order to report a potential crime…WPD has a detailed protocol for confidential informants, including signing a confidentiality agreement explaining when the city will not (and will) disclose personal information about the informant. In this case Mr. Medina and the mayor were not promised confidentiality, and they voluntarily provided statements to WPD personnel.”

Recently Swenson said: “It was important to fulfill my civic duty by contributing to an investigation into possible illegal activity, even if the circumstances might seem newsworthy to some and reflect poorly on myself.”

Investigation

Reports spurred an investigation into the spa, not just by the Woodburn Police but also through the Oregon State Board of Massage Therapists.

A WPD report narrated by Hedricks said the department’s database showed that in December 2021, an anonymous phone caller reported prostitution occurring at the spa.

According to the report: “The caller said that a friend’s marriage had been ruined by the activity there. The caller referred to the place as a ‘Chinese massage parlor’ that had people lined up.”

WPD investigated the spa and determined that it was advertising and operating without being licensed as required by state law. Police contacted OBMT and provided Compliance Manager Jeff Van Laanen its information, including reports of employees taking cash payments and offering sexual services while providing massages.

Van Laanen investigated the spa on March 23 and reported that after he identified himself and was trying to identify two workers onhand, they fled the building, leaving it unlocked and unattended.

WPD report noted: “I responded to the location and met with Van Laanen in the business’s parking lot Van Laanen said he did not think anyone else was in the building after the two female workers ran away.”

Police searched the premises and determined it was unoccupied. They did hear a voice coming from a mounted camera. Communication was difficult, so one officer requested that the person speaking from the camera call her, which he did. That person said he would contact someone to come down to the building and lock it. A person arrived but could not lock the building with his keys.

Police remained on the scene for more than an hour before two women appeared who matched the appearance of those Van Laanen had described and photographed during his investigation. After some difficulty, including communication problems, police arrested Wenli Yang and Wei Gao, charging them with practicing massage without a license and operating a massage facility without a permit.

The report sent an additional possible sex abuse charge to the DA’s office against Yang for allegedly inappropriately touching Laanen during his compliance investigation.

Police interviews indicate that Gao emigrated to the U.S. from Li Jing, China, in August of 2021, living in California before moving to Woodburn to work at the spa. The spa charges between $60 and $120 for services. Gao denied that sexual services were included.

The women had more than $16,000 in cash between them at the time of the arrests. During the interviews, police asked questions that probed for possible human or sexual-trafficking situations, but that appeared inconclusive.

Innuendos

Swenson and Medina ran for state offices and won their respective May primaries; Swenson for the Oregon Senate District 11 Democratic candidacy and Medina as the Oregon House District 22 Democrat. The senate seat is being vacated by longtime lawmaker Peter Courtney and the house seat by several term representative Teresa Alonso Leon, who had decided to run in the 6th District congressional primary won by Andrea Salinas.

Swenson subsequently had a change of heart and decided to run for another term as Woodburn’s mayor in lieu of the senate race. He recommended Alonso Leon, whose house district boundaries fall within Senate District 11, as the November candidate. Democratic precinct representative voted in late June on filling the candidacy with the primary’s runner up, Rich Walsh of Keizer.

When reports of the spa incident surfaced, some political writers tried to loosely tie Swenson’s political decision with the spa incidents, speculating without evidence or sources, even before police reports were released. The mayor and Medina both filed to run for the state seats after the incidents and their reports to the police.

Medina remains the House District 22 Democratic candidate, and Swenson remains firm in his intention to seek another mayoral term.

“I wasn’t leaving the Democratic Party in the lurch,” Swenson said, adding that there are a number of qualified people to run for the Senate seat.

He added that his heart is in Woodburn, and there is considerable ongoing work in Woodburn, including parks and massive construction, and that he felt he would be of better service helping to guide activity in the city than he would be serving in the senate.

Swenson also said that during his campaign for the senate seat, which included hours of door-to-door canvasing, he was somewhat disheartened after discovering how few people he met were engaged or even aware of the senate race, much less interested in its outcome or impact.

When one news outlet asked Swenson if the spa incident had any impact on his political decision, he said that at best it was “way down on my list.”