Feds Nab 31 Koreans and Two NYPD Cops for Human Trafficking
by Jim Kouri, CPP
Federal agents arrested 31 Korean nationals on Tuesday who were charged in a wide-ranging human trafficking ring operating throughout the Northeastern United States. Also arrested were two officers from the New York City Police Department who allegedly accepted over $125,000.00 in bribes.
The defendants have been charged by the United States Attorneys' Offices for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York with crimes including conspiracy to engage in human trafficking; conspiracy to engage in interstate transportation of women for the purpose of prostitution and interstate transportation of women for the purpose of prostitution, conspiracy to transport illegal aliens and transportation of illegal aliens; and conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business.
The defendants include brothel owners and managers, middlemen who worked as transporters and otherwise assisted the organization, and individuals involved in unlicensed money transmitting businesses. Immigration and FBI agents executed arrest warrants and search warrants in New York, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, North Carolina, and California.
According to complaints unsealed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court and in Brooklyn federal court, the investigation began in May 2005, when a Korean couple who owned and operated a chain of Korean brothels in Queens, New York, attempted to bribe an undercover New York City Police Department detective to protect their businesses from being raided by law enforcement. Working in an undercover capacity, the detective began accepting bribes from the couple.
Between May 2005 and March 2006, the couple paid the undercover detective a total of $126,500 in cash bribes.
On March 8, 2006, the couple and two NYPD officers, who were discovered during the investigation to be accepting bribes, were arrested and charged with public corruption offenses. That prosecution is pending in federal district court in Brooklyn before the Honorable Sandra L. Townes.
The government expanded its investigation and obtained a court-authorized wiretap on the telephone of Tae Hoon Kim, also known as "Tae Won," the Queens Borough-based middleman and transporter. The wiretap led to the discovery of an extensive network of Korean-owed brothels, stretching from Rhode Island to Washington, D.C.
According to court documents, the trafficking process typically began when recruiters in Korea and the United States identified women in Korea who wanted to come to the United States, often to make money to support their families in Korea. The recruiters would then arrange for the transportation of the women to North America.
In some cases, the recruiters provided the women with false immigration documents to enable the women to enter the United States illegally. In other instances, the women were taken into the custody of other handlers in Canada or Mexico and then smuggled into the United States.
The complaints allege that, by the time the women arrived in the United States, they had incurred large financial debts, usually in the tens of thousands of dollars, to the recruiters in Korea and other members of the defendants' organization.
Middlemen in the United States arranged for the women to be placed in one of the network’s numerous brothels and then transported the women to the brothels. In many cases, the brothels purported to be legal enterprises such as massage parlors, health spas and acupuncture clinics, but in fact generated the vast majority of their revenue through illegal prostitution.
Once the women were delivered to the brothels, they were placed under the supervision and custody of the brothel owner or manager, who frequently took possession of the women's identification and travel documents, including passports, to restrict the ability of the women to leave.
The complaints charge that the women then began working in the brothels as prostitutes, typically with their earnings credited against their outstanding debts to the members of the criminal organization. In some instances, the women were threatened or led to believe that if they left the prostitution business before paying off their debts, they would be turned over to United States law enforcement or immigration authorities, or that their families in Korea would be harmed.
The intercepted telephone conversations revealed that the women were routinely traded and exchanged between and among the various brothel owners and managers, sometimes as often as several times per month, until they worked off their original debts to the defendants.
When a new worker was needed, the owner or manager simply placed a call to a middleman or transporter, who located a woman who fit the manager's need and arranged for the transportation of the woman to the new brothel.
In addition, the middlemen assisted the brothel owners in sending prostitution proceeds and other funds overseas through unlicensed Korean money transmitters.
Prosecutors said, "This case is a reminder that large-scale human trafficking occurs every day, right in our own cities and neighborhoods. The United States government is dedicated putting an end to this type of trafficking, and to punishing those who seek to profit from the sexual exploitation of others."
"This law enforcement operation successfully shut down an organization that cashed in human dignity for profit and greed," said Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Julie Myers.
"ICE will continue to aggressively target the means, money and infrastructure of organizations that exploit individuals."
If convicted of the charges, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment for the conspiracy charges and up to ten years imprisonment for interstate sex trafficking.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.