A man has been charged with multiple counts of robbery and a hate crime after allegedly targeting Asian-owned spas in Washington state’s Puget Sound area between April and June.
Tuli Aumaunofo Kalani Tevaga, 23, who is identified as Asian American and Pacific Islander himself, targeted the spas “based on his perception that the race of [the] parlors’ owner suggested they would be engaged in illegal activity, thus unlikely to report his crimes to law enforcement,” as per court documents.
The first incident reportedly took place at a massage parlor in the 11600 block of State Avenue in Marysville on April 21 when a man came in for an appointment. After receiving service, the man told an employee there that he could not pay and then claimed to call a friend for help.
The man pulled out a gun 15 minutes later and threatened to kill the employee if she did not give him money. The man allegedly pushed her and stole her purse, wallet, phone and bracelet.
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A similar robbery was reported at another Asian-owned spa in the same city in June. The suspect flashed what appeared to be a weapon, demanded money, pushed staff, stole the cash and then escaped.
“I realized if I didn’t report, he might go rob another place,” the spa’s manager told The Daily Herald. “I had to save the other people.”
Several other robberies were reported between the two incidents. Police eventually zeroed in on Tevaga as a prime suspect and arrested him on June 9.
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Tevaga reportedly confessed to the robberies and targeting Asian businesses. However, he allegedly did so because of perceptions regarding race, not out of race-based animosity.
“Mr. Tevaga has NO racial animus towards Asian people or anyone else,” Tevaga’s attorney Gabriel Rothstein said. “There is no evidence of any racial animus or hatred against Asian people. Mr. Tevaga is a Pacific Islander himself. Correlation is NOT causation.”
Tevaga also admitted to using similar tactics for over a dozen more robberies of massage parlors in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
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Tevaga has been officially charged with four counts of first-degree robbery and one count of a hate crime. He is being held at Snohomish County Jail on a $1 million bail.