August 17th, 2006 05:10 EST
31 Arrests in Major Prostitution Ring
A 15-month investigation of a massive prostitution network based in New York and stretching from Rhode Island to Virginia culminated in the arrests Tuesday of 31 defendants in seven states and the District of Columbia, the FBI announced with officials from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the New York City Police Department.
The joint investigation uncovered an elaborate network of brothel owners, recruiters, and prostitutes—Korean émigrés smuggled into the U.S. and then into brothels. Investigators also found a network of money remitters, who transferred some prostitution proceeds overseas, and drivers, who delivered women between brothels—sometimes at great distances, such as two occasions last February when women were ferried from New York City to a prostitution business in D.C.
“Illegal prostitution is not a victimless crime,” Andrew Arena, special agent in charge of the criminal division of our New York City office, said during an August 16 press conference in New York. “The FBI is part of the apparatus in place to protect people, sometimes even from their own poor choices.”
Arena said the investigation began in May 2005 after an undercover probe of a prostitution business run by a Korean husband and wife in Queens, New York. Through court-authorized monitoring of the couple’s telephone conversations, investigators saw the reach of the conspiracy—recruiters in the U.S. and Korea were helping women get into the U.S., usually illegally; drivers met them at the airport or the border and then delivered them to brothels in New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, D.C., and Virginia.
A report by the Department of State earlier this year estimated that up to 2 million people are trafficked worldwide every year, with an estimated 15,000 to 18,000 in the U.S. Investigating human trafficking and other civil rights violations is one of the FBI’s top priorities. In many cases, prostitutes are forced into servitude by their recruiters to pay back the cost of passage out of their countries.
In this case, recruiters in Korea and the U.S. identified Korean women who wanted to come to the U.S., typically to make money to support their families. Recruiters arranged transportation, and in some cases provided the women with false passports and visas. Once in the U.S. and saddled with a large debt (usually in the tens of thousands of dollars), the women were transported to brothels—some that fronted as legitimate spas and massage parlors—where brothel owners or managers often confiscated their IDs and passports, making escape difficult.
“This is a reminder that large-scale human trafficking occurs every day, right in our own cities and neighborhoods,” said Michael J. Garcia, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The defendants, charged in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, face up to five years in prison for conspiracy charges and up to 10 years in prison for transporting women across state lines for prostitution.
Resources: Press release | Human Trafficking webpage | Human Trafficking Intelligence Report