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Two International Sex-Trafficking Rings Foiled in the United States

August 18, 2006

A total of 40 charged in sex trafficking rings on East and West Coasts.

Nine charged in international sex-trafficking ring. 1
Nine people were arrested Thursday following a two-year investigation into an international sex-trafficking ring that involved smuggling Asian women into this country in shipping containers, federal and local authorities said. The U.S. attorney's office in Seattle said the "highly organized national network prostitution ring" illegally brought women here from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Laos. Seven of the conspirators were arrested Thursday in Seattle and two in Los Angeles, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office. All were charged Thursday in U.S. District Court here.

Eight are accused of conspiracy to transport individuals in furtherance of prostitution and conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens. Four also are charged with conspiracy to engage in money laundering. A ninth person is charged with conspiracy to transport individuals in furtherance of prostitution. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison. Details on the prostitution ring surfaced in April 2004, when the Eastside Narcotics Task Force raided the Apple Spa in Bellevue after determining it was a front for prostitution, federal officials said.

Investigators with the FBI, U.S. Customs and Enforcement, and Seattle police spent the next 21 months using confidential informants, court-approved wiretaps, and Global Positioning Satellite units to identify participants in the larger operation. According to court documents, Yong Jun Kang, 36, of Seattle, operated brothels in Portland, Ore., and Seattle, where he and others would bring Asian women, most of whom were in the United States illegally. After 10 to 14 days, the women would be taken to brothels in other cities, investigators said. In conversations with confidential informants, Kang said women were being smuggled into the U.S. in shipping containers after paying as much as $50,000.

Some of the women, investigators said, were brought into the United States by crossing the Canadian border. The women were forced to pay debts to smugglers by working in the brothels, the U.S. attorney's office said. Others accused in the operation are Zhenhua Liu, 51, of Seattle; and Penquan Xie, 48, and Zhen Qu, 49, both of Los Angeles, who court documents say worked for Kang as brothel managers. Lianchen Ning, 47, of Seattle, is accused of transporting women between brothels and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Rujng Jiang, 36, and her husband, Keshing Zhu, 38, both of Seattle, are accused of operating an escort service in Seattle as a front for prostitution. Also arrested were Thongyot Liamurai, 39, of Seattle, identified as a prostitute for both Kang and Zhu and a close confident of Kang's, and Bing Wang, identified as a manager at Liu's brothel.

1 "Nine charged in international sex-trafficking ring." Associated Press. 10 August 2006.

31 Arrested in Reputed Korean Sex-Slave Trafficking Along East Coast. 2
Federal agents broke up a sex-slave trafficking ring along the East Coast that coerced Korean women into working as prostitutes in massage parlors and spas, some in upscale Washington neighborhoods such as Cleveland Park and Glover Park, authorities announced yesterday. Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI arrested 31 people Tuesday, including 19 in New York and four in the District. They also raided 18 businesses, including one in Baltimore and five in Washington, three of them downtown.

In all, 23 Korean women in Washington and 44 in New York, Baltimore, New Haven, Conn., and Philadelphia were rounded up and interviewed to determine whether they were involuntarily part of the ring that forced some women into prostitution to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in fees for being smuggled into the United States, authorities said.

"This law enforcement operation successfully shut down an organization that cashed in human dignity for profit and greed," ICE Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers said in a statement. Federal indictments unsealed in New York yesterday provided a glimpse into the highly profitable world of prostitution and slavery, which in this case, authorities said, stretched from South Korea to points along the East Coast.
The charges, including conspiracy to engage in human trafficking and interstate transportation of women for the purpose of prostitution, resulted from hours of wiretapped conversations.

According to court documents, recruiters in South Korea and the United States arranged travel to the United States for Korean women interested in making money for their families. The women were provided false immigration documents or were turned over to handlers in Canada or Mexico, who smuggled them into the country, the documents said. Once they arrived in the United States, the women often were transported to Flushing, N.Y., where they were told they would have to work as prostitutes to offset their costs for being smuggled into the country, authorities said.

According to the indictments, five middlemen in Flushing took orders from the East Coast for Korean women and charged for procuring and delivering the women. The business operators often asked for specific physical attributes, and some in Washington said that some of the women were "too tall" or "not satisfactory," according to recorded conversations. Owners took a big cut of the customers' fees and sent some of that money to South Korea to pay for the smuggling fees, authorities said.

Business operators often took away the women's identification and travel documents and led them to believe that they would be turned over to U.S. authorities or that their families would be harmed if they fled before paying off their outstanding smuggling fee. The businesses raided in Washington included the OK Spa, 2428 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 14K Spa, 1413 K St. NW; Downtown Spa, 1018 Vermont Ave. NW; Royal Spa, 520 10th St. NW; and Cleveland Park Holistic Health, 3520 Connecticut Ave. NW. Attempts to reach the businesses by phone for comment were unsuccessful.

Massage parlor operators in Washington who were arrested Tuesday included Tae Nam Thompson, 56; Eun Ja Park, 38; Seng Hee Ryan, 33; and Young Hui Kim, age unknown. More arrests were expected, authorities said. Investigators intercepted numerous phone conversations along the East Coast.
At the Downtown Spa in downtown Washington, the massage parlor operator told a middleman in New York that the workers "were tired because they served 15 customers the previous night" and "she only had six girls working at the time, but needed eight girls because she would get up to 70 customers on a weekend," according to court documents.

2 Allan Lengel. “31 Arrested in Reputed Korean Sex-Slave Trafficking Along East Coast.” The Washington Post.  17 August  2006; Page B08.

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