News/US: 13 Charged in Gang Importing Prostitutes

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Subject: News/US: 13 Charged in Gang Importing Prostitutes
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Tue Aug 24 1999 - 16:56:00 EDT

13 Charged in Gang Importing Prostitutes
By William Booth
Washington Post, August 21, 1999

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 20 -- Federal authorities announced indictments today
against a syndicate of smugglers and pimps that imported hundreds of young
Asian women into the United States to work as prostitutes in brothels,
where they lived in bondage until their "contracts" were paid off.

The breakup of the smuggling and prostitution ring in Atlanta, where some
of the Asians were girls as young as 13, represents a little-noticed trend
in immigration scams, whereby women are lured to the United States but
forced to work as prostitutes, often as virtual prisoners.

In the last three years, similar gangs have been charged in New York, Los
Angeles and San Francisco, and the victims have been women from both Asia
and Latin America.

An organized crime task force in the U.S. attorney's office in Atlanta
announced the indictment today of 13 members of the smuggling ring. They
are all foreign nationals from Taiwan, China and Vietnam. Seven have been
arrested, and six are still at large. They face charges of illegal
importation of aliens for prostitution and could be sentenced to 10 years
in prison if convicted of each of four counts.

As Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Gordon described the allegations, 500 to
1,000 women from China, Thailand, Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam were
approached by so-called snakeheads in their home countries and brought to
the brothels in Atlanta, where they worked as sex slaves.

The snakeheads had the women submit to "contracts," worth $30,000 to
$40,000, whereby the women agreed to work in the United States until the
debt was paid off. Gordon said some of the women knew they would work as
prostitutes, but others told investigators they thought they would be
working in massage parlors or as seamstresses.

After the women made their contracts with the snakeheads, they were turned
over to a "jockey," Gordon said, who would smuggle them into the United
States and provide documents. Upon arrival in America, they would be
delivered to an "agent," who was responsible for delivering them to
brothels and making sure the smuggling syndicate collected its money.

Gordon said the women worked as prostitutes not out of saloons or massage
parlors or other fronts, but in clandestine brothels in apartments and
houses in the Atlanta area, where mattresses were separated from each other
by sheets. In part of the ongoing investigation in Atlanta, there was a
raid at one house that a federal affidavit described last year as a "prison
compound." The house was ringed with barbed wire and fences, there were
chained dogs, and gang members served as guards.

Unless they were accompanied by guards, the women were not allowed even to
run errands, authorities said.

According to the investigators, the women made about $100 a trick, of which
$30 went to the brothel and $70 went to pay off the women's contracts. At
that rate, a woman would have to have sex with 428 men before she paid off
a $30,000 contract. Gordon met one prostitute who had been working for six
months to pay off her contract.

Gordon said the women were shuttled around the country--traveling to other
brothels in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Florida,
Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Washington, D.C.

"We found one brothel grossed $1.5 million over a 2 1/2-year period, so the
cost of airplane tickets was minimal to their business," Gordon said.

Investigators said the women were moved about every week or 10 days because
their clients, which were limited to a small number of repeat customers,
"got tired of the same women," Gordon said. The indictment puts it more
delicately: to maintain diversity for the interest and satisfaction of

Gordon said that, based on surveillance, almost all the clients were men of
Asian origin. None of the clients was arrested, but prosecutors said they
assumed some of them might serve as possible witnesses in any upcoming
trials. The women were not arrested either, although they may be deported.

Melanie Orhant

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