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Friday, June 18, 2004

kingcountyjournal.com - Police bust prostitution ring - Illegal immigrants from China worked from two Bellevue massage parlors

kingcountyjournal.com - Police bust prostitution ring - Illegal immigrants from China worked from two Bellevue massage parlors

Police bust prostitution ring - Illegal immigrants from China worked from two Bellevue massage parlors
2004-06-18
by David A. Grant
Journal Reporter

BELLEVUE -- Police announced Thursday they have busted two massage parlors that were fronts for prostitution, in some cases involving illegal immigrants from China who were not allowed to leave the businesses.

Ten people, seven women and three men, were arrested for prostitution-related offenses, money laundering or forgery. Three of the women were interviewed and released. At least one of the men has been deported to China.

Among the customers were a 66-year-old Kirkland man who was caught in the act when police busted Heaven & Earth Massage on April 22, said police spokesman Michael Chiu. Another of the johns, who was spotted during surveillance by the Eastside Narcotics Task Force, is a diplomat from an unidentified country.

``If you are a customer, it is in the realm of possibility that we will contact you,'' Chiu warned. ``We do take prostitution seriously.''

The first bust took place at Dragon Springs, located at a business park at 13251 N.E. 20th St. The massage parlor was shut down March 11. Four people were arrested there after police received tips, including at least one from a legitimate business where customers were looking for more than just massage therapy.

Based on information from the first raid, Bellevue police hit Heaven & Earth, located in a quiet strip shopping center at 10224 N.E. 10th St. in downtown Bellevue, arresting six more people.

Chiu said police didn't announce the arrests sooner because they were looking at bigger issues such as national crime or international crime rings and didn't want to jeopardize the larger investigation.

He said raids of the businesses, and of homes of those arrested, netted nearly $90,000 in cash, along with cars and boats. There was evidence that much of the cash was being wired overseas, Chiu said.

The operations included ads placed in newspapers in Los Angeles and Seattle, with a network of prostitutes flying to do business for two or three weeks at one massage parlor before flying to a new location. Customers were charged a $60 massage fee, which the business kept, with a ``tip'' of $40 to $100 paid to the prostitute.

Some of the prostitutes were not allowed to leave the business, Chiu said.

Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of the Seattle office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Department of Homeland Security, said forced prostitution of aliens has become fairly routine.

``Particularly in the Pacific Northwest we have a sizable number of individuals smuggled into the country for the purpose of the sex trade,'' Winchell said.

``The alien smuggling, human trafficking trade is very much alive and well,'' he continued. ``Not all individuals are coming to work in the sex trade. Some are just looking for a better way of life, some work in a form of indentured servitude that does not involve the sex trade.''

Employees of businesses located nearby the two closed massage parlors said the prostitution fronts were generally quiet and unobtrusive. They had no idea people were being made to stay inside against their will.

Jafar Fallahi, an employee of Caffe Coccinella, located next door to the former Heaven & Earth Massage downtown, said he befriended the owner of the business, whom he described as a humorous man.

``Guys would drive up and they seemed to know when to go in,'' said Fallahi, who described most of the customers as older white men. ``They had an insecure aura to them.''

Scott Elsberry, manager of Drumbalaya, located across the parking lot from Dragon Springs, said the business was generally quiet, but recalled its ``Open'' sign was always lit up.

``We're not the blackberry patch we used to be,'' Elsberry, a Bellevue native, said of the city.

Both of the operations at which police made arrests had Bellevue business licenses, Chiu said.

None of those arrested are among the 11,246 licensed massage therapists in Washington, said Tim Church, a spokesman for the state Department of Health.

Locally, approximately 130 ``therapeutic message'' businesses on the Eastside are listed in the telephone book, including 41 in Bellevue.

``The majority of massage businesses are licensed, trained and legitimate for therapeutic purposes,'' said Chiu. ``And I don't include sex as therapy.''

Chiu said Bellevue police conducted 10 prostitution busts in 2003; the most recent one in September involved an escort service. He said police do not go looking to make prostitution arrests but do act on tips.

Those arrested included Yo Sup Choi, 40, of Seattle, owner of Dragon Spring, and Gui Lan Wang, a 44-year-old Bellevue woman, described as a madam.

At Heaven & Earth Massage, owner Ke Sheng Zhu, 35, of Houston, described as member of the Chinese Army, was arrested for permitting prostitution, promoting prostitution and money laundering.

He was booked into the Immigration & Customs Enforcement facility in Seattle as an illegal alien and has since been deported.

Yong Jun Kang, 33, of Portland, Ore., another member of the Chinese Army, was arrested for promoting prostitution and booked into the Immigration facility as an illegal alien.

Among those arrested and later released after being interviewed were a 33-year-old divorced mail-order bride from Houston.

David Grant can be reached at david.grant@kingcountyjournal.com or 425-453-4237.

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