31 Arrested in Reputed Korean Sex-Slave Trafficking Along East Coast

By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 17, 2006

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.

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