WILLISTON MAN PAYS $100,000 TO SETTLE SPA FORFEITURE CLAIM
The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announces that it has reached a settlement in the civil forfeiture matter involving the previous home of the Harmony Spa at 5649 Williston Road, in Williston, Vermont. In a complaint filed on June 28, 2013, the United States alleged that the Williston property owned by Thomas Booska, age 68, of Burlington, Vermont, was forfeitable to the government because it was used to house individuals who were induced or encouraged to come to Vermont from out of state for purposes of engaging in prostitution or other commercial sex acts. While admitting that he is the owner of the Williston property and that Harmony Spa had been located at the Williston property, Booska generally denied the allegations of the complaint.
The complaint alleged that in May 2011, Booska was advised by law enforcement that it had received reports of commercial sex acts taking place at the Harmony Spa located at the Williston property. At that time, Booska was further advised that if such activity continued, the property would be subject to forfeiture by the United States Attorney’s Office. The complaint further alleged that despite this warning, in the Fall of 2012 and thereafter, Booska was providing housing and transportation to Asian females, who he knew had traveled from out of state to Vermont with the intent of engaging in sexual acts for pay as part of their services at Harmony Spa. According to information filed with the complaint, several sources of information reported that they had been offered sexual services at the Harmony Spa, including a service referred to as a “happy ending.” The complaint alleged that the property was subject to forfeiture because its use in facilitating the activities of the Harmony Spa was a violation of the Mann Act, which governs crimes related to travel in interstate commerce for the purpose of prostitution or other commercial sex activity.
The forfeiture action was initially stayed by the parties pending the outcome of a related criminal case against Booska in Vermont Superior Court. On April 9, 2014, the Honorable William K. Sessions III, United States District Judge, lifted the stay and approved a settlement agreement between Booska and the United States. Pursuant to the terms of the settlement agreement, Booska agreed to forfeit to the United States $100,000 in place of the Williston property no later than ninety days from the entry of the Court’s Order. Failure to pay within that time frame will result in forfeiture of the Williston property to the government. The settlement agreement also contemplates the sale of the property to individuals who have previously run a hair and nail salon in Colchester, Vermont.
The United States was represented in this matter by Assistant United States Attorney Heather E. Ross. Thomas Booska was represented by Kurt Hughes, Esq. of the Burlington law firm Murdoch, Hughes, and Twarog. The matter was investigated by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations, and the Williston Police Department.