Korean police help bust brothels in New York

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Korean police help bust brothels in New York

Korean and U.S. police jointly cracked down on brothels in New York that hired Korean women, leading to the arrest of 49 people including brothel owners and people allegedly involved in recruiting and advertising the sex workers.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said Tuesday that it sent officers to the United States to cooperate with prosecutors and federal agencies, leading to the arrest last week of 48 people there and a 38-year-old man surnamed Kim, based in Korea, who was in charge of operating a website advertising the sex workers’ services.

Kim’s mother, a 63-year-old woman surnamed Ham who was based in New York, collected commissions for the advertisements. The sex workers hired at the brothel were among those rounded up by the police.

Since last July, U.S. prosecutors, federal agencies and the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency have conducted a large-scale operation combating illegal Korean prostitution rings in New York.

They launched a joint operation on April 13 enabling a search and seizure of some 10 businesses involved in the sex trade employing Korean women.

This was the result of a four-year U.S. federal investigation into a ring of Korean brothel operators that brought women from Korea into the United States to work as sex workers. The businesses were disguised as massage parlors or spas.

The Korean women were mostly in their 20s and 30s and visited the United States on 90-day visas. The women testified to police that they received around $200 per hour for sex work.

The women were able to travel to the United States on a visa waiver program for tourists, exploiting the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, according to a criminal complaint filed with a New York federal district court by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service.

The complaint charges 11 defendants involved with the operation of brothels and its advertising of money laundering and conspiring against U.S. law between 2011 and 2016. Since 2011, the defendants are accused of laundering more than $1.4 million.

The women allegedly worked illegally as prostitutes and turned over a percentage of their earnings to owners of the businesses to cover room and board as well as the cost of advertising their services. Some of the businesses offered a so-called girlfriend experience, an upgraded service that could cost twice as much as a normal prostitution service. Advertisements for the “girlfriend experience” services included the acronym “GFE” over images of the woman photographed either nude or in lingerie. Many were described as “new” or “first time in U.S.A.” The brothels maintained extensive lists of “approved” customers, and brothel owners often shared information over KakaoTalk.

A New York Police Department search in April 2015 of one brothel in New York led to the confiscation of a computer file of more than 70,000 contacts thought to be customers, along with bundles of cash and customer appointment sheets.

Seoul police said that a lot of money earned in the brothels went to Kim and for advertising fees. Kim graduated from college in the United States and worked in finance but was not able to adjust to that career and turned to advertising for the brothels, according to the police. He enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle in Korea, driving a BMW and Porsche.Seoul police said this was the first time it had sent officers to the United States for a joint operation. They said it was expected to set a “precedent” for future cooperation.

Police are considering summoning the arrested women back to Korea.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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