Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson and Anthony Medina, chairman of the city’s school board, took their political careers to another level earlier this year. Running separately, the Democrats won their party’s nominations for a pair of legislative seats in Woodburn – Swenson in the Oregon Senate, Medina in the State House.
But the pair have something else in common that could upend their momentum, if not their political careers: Both told Woodburn police they had sexual contact with workers at a local spa, then voluntarily reported this conduct to the authorities.
According to videos of police interviews, Swenson and Medina surrendered to police separately in February, and their spa visits were separate and unrelated.
The men, who serve together on the Woodburn School Board, told similar stories. Both told police they went to the Woodburn Spa for a massage and were surprised when a member of staff initiated erotic contact, according to their interviews with police, which the OPB obtained via a request of public documents. Both Swenson and Medina said they were caught off guard and left the building.
No charges have been filed in this case. Documents obtained through the state’s Public Records Acts show police arrested and convicted two people for practicing massage without a license, but suggest they do not plan to pursue any further charges. They also show that the FBI is not pursuing allegations of sex trafficking at the company.
Even without charges, the twin incidents could have political ramifications that will impact both men’s political future – and their party‘s strength in the state Legislature next year.
Swenson surprised many political observers in June when he abruptly dropped out of his run for Senate District 11, telling his supporters he had decided to run for another mayoral term instead. The mayor of Woodburn stuck to this story, but his connection to the police investigation had been whispered in political circles before his announcement.
The leader of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, Oliver Muggli, acknowledged on Wednesday that the issue arose as the party began preparing to back Swenson in the general election. But Muggli said Democrats did not ask Swenson to step down. Senate Speaker Peter Courtney, D-Salem, whose seat Swenson was seeking, declined to say in June whether any unflattering details had emerged about the mayor.
“I don’t know anything factual, particularly, if that’s what you’re asking,” said Courtney, who is not seeking reelection.
Swenson told the OPB in late June that the police matter was ‘low’ on his list of reasons to stand down, but declined to go into detail about what he actually told police. . In an email to the OPB on Tuesday, Swenson reiterated that he turned himself in to police in February to report the spa incident, before running for the Legislative Assembly.
“I entered the Senate race having already reported this – and knowing there was a possibility that this would become public,” Swenson wrote. “If that were the case, I didn’t think that fulfilling my civic duty of reporting an incident to help an investigation of possible illegal activity would play a major role in a political race, however newsworthy the circumstances might be. for some people.”
Medina, school board president and policy analyst with the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, first went to police to report inappropriate contact at the massage parlor. In a brief taped interview with a police detective on February 15, Medina identified the woman who gave him the massage, saying he left after grabbing it inappropriately. The woman abruptly ended the massage when he refused sexual contact, he said.
During that police interview, Medina said he explained what happened to Swenson, after meeting the mayor at a cafe.
“I felt like I had to tell him what happened,” Medina told a detective. “He said, ‘OK, I didn’t know that.’ A few hours later…he called me and said, ‘I need to get something out of my chest. The same thing happened to me. Exactly the same place.’”
Medina declined to speak to the OPB in June about his involvement in the complaint, except to say he had filed a report with police in February.
Swenson sat down with Woodburn police a day after Medina. In an interview that lasted nearly an hour, he described visiting the spa at 8 p.m. at some point in the previous month – he wasn’t sure of the date, he said . Swenson told police his arm was hurting and the salon was the only place still open at that time of night.
According to Swenson, a woman at the salon repeatedly asked him what he wanted, and he replied each time that he wanted “a massage.” But halfway through, he said, things got “inappropriate”. After what Swenson said was “three or four minutes” of “mutual fumbling”, he said he came to his senses and left the company. Swenson told police the woman did not touch her genitals.
Swenson told police he didn’t think to report the matter until he heard Medina’s story weeks later.
“I walked away from that thinking, ‘There’s a place not to go back,'” Swenson told police. “But when I heard [Medina’s story] I thought: there is a larger context.
In the recorded interview, a detective suggested that the police investigate the massage parlour, saying: “We want to hold them accountable and we want justice for people who have become victims, like you and Mr Medina. “
“I don’t need justice so much, except to forget all about it,” Swenson replied.
In an email this week, Swenson declined to elaborate on the encounter other than to say, “In short, I was in an inappropriate situation, I was myself briefly inappropriate, I removed myself from this situation and voluntarily reported it to the police when I learned there was an investigation into illegal activities at this business in my city. I did so knowing that police reports could be made public and I I told the truth, however unflattering it may seem to me, hoping that this evidence could be used to prevent further illegal activity.
Following their separate interviews with police, Medina and Swenson ran for the state legislature. The two eventually won the Democratic primaries, qualifying for November’s general election.
Medina unwittingly helped bring the matter public in June, when he filed a public records request with the town of Woodburn for the spa’s police investigation. As the OPB reported, that request set off alarm bells at Woodburn Town Hall, where officials feared they would have a conflict both working for Swenson and deciding whether his disclosure to police was part of the public record.
On June 23, City Administrator Scott Derickson and City Attorney N. Robert Shields wrote a memo revealing that they discussed the matter with Swenson in February, recommending that he turn himself in to police. . The city of Woodburn has hired an outside attorney to help officials determine which documents must be released under state law. On Monday, Woodburn City Council met in executive session to discuss these issues out of the public eye.
While Medina and Swenson insist they did nothing wrong, their relationship with the spa and a police investigation are likely fodder for their rivals in an election year. On Thursday, Medina was still the Democratic candidate for House District 22, a safe Democratic seat that stretches from Woodburn to Salem.
Swenson, meanwhile, has not yet filed for re-election as mayor, Woodburn City registrar Heather Pierson said Monday. He has until August 30 to do so.
Swenson’s departure from Woodburn’s Senate race sparked brief but intense controversy last month, in part because he recommended that a political ally, State Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, replaces him as a candidate.
Observers from both political parties have speculated that Swenson may have planned to drop out all the time in order to save a spot for Alonso-Leon, who failed in his bid for Congress this year and, in doing so, has lost his ability to run for the Legislative Assembly. District Democratic officials ultimately selected Keiser’s attorney, Rich Walsh, who came second to Swenson in the May Democratic primary, to fill the position.
The business where Swenson and Medina say they were caught off guard, The Woodburn Spa, offers full-body massages ranging from $50 to $120, depending on length.
A spa website features what appear to be stock photos of young Asian women. The spa also appears to have advertised on bodyrubpage.com, a platform for finding what the site calls “erotic massage and happy endings.” A four-month-old listing with the spa’s name and number includes more suggestive photos of young Asian women and touts a “sweet and cute new girl” and a “new way of massaging that brings you the best relaxation five stars”. and a facility disinfected daily.
Swenson and Medina weren’t the first to report the massage parlor for potentially illegal activity. According to a police report, a person phoned the police without giving their name in December to report prostitution at the business, saying “a friend’s marriage had been ruined by the activity there”. A detective searched for the name of the business owner and then dropped the case, according to the report.
Records show the company was first registered with the state in October 2021 by someone named Fuxiu Zhen, who lists a Southern California address in some state documents and is also affiliated with massage parlors in Eugene and Portland.
Zhen appears to have filed for dissolution of Woodburn Spa LLC in April. But the spa’s website is still online, and a woman who answered the phone on Thursday said the business was accepting new appointments.