Subject: News/US: HUMAN CONTRABAND: Asian women expected jobs, not prostitution
From: Melanie Orhant (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Sep 02 1999 - 11:09:42 EDT
HUMAN CONTRABAND: Asian women expected jobs, not prostitution
R. Robin McDonald, Staff
The Atlanta Constitution, August 31, 1999, C8
Some knew they were coming to America to become prostitutes. Others
believed they were paying $40,000 to travel from Asia to legal jobs in
America as hostesses, seamstresses or waitresses.
But when they got to Atlanta, all the young women became sex slaves, forced
into service in 13 apartments and two motel rooms that made up just one
part of a national network of illegal brothels. Federal investigators say
the women, some as young as 15, were guarded by Asian gang members in
squalid rooms furnished with little but mattresses and condoms. They were
sold for sex as often as 10 times a day.
The women --- who signed contracts with smugglers known as "snakeheads" in
Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Korea, China and Malaysia --- were largely
invisible even in the Asian communities in northern DeKalb County and Atlanta.
And every few weeks, they were moved from city to city as brothel owners
bought and sold their contracts, according to search warrant affidavits and
federal grand jury indictments unsealed last week. The owners kept the
women moving to avoid detection by law enforcement and to ensure repeat
customers who demanded sex with different women.
Customers paid $100 a trick, the federal indictments said. The brothel kept
$30. The remaining $70 went to the brokers who held their contracts.
Brothel owners insisted that the prostitutes make themselves attractive to
their customers. If they failed to attract enough clients, the men who
owned their contracts often threatened them and the families they had left
behind, federal investigators said.
About 600 sex acts later, when they had repaid their brokers, the women
were freed. But they soon learned they were illegal aliens with no money,
no visas, no legal identification, no work skills and nowhere to go,
federal agents said.
Because of that, federal investigators say, some of them returned to the
brothels, this time as madams.
"The reason we looked into this case is because of the smuggling and the
involuntary servitude," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Gordon. "There
are always going to be prostitutes. . . . It's the forced nature of this
On Aug. 17 --- after a two-year investigation by the FBI and the U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service --- federal prosecutors in Atlanta
unsealed four indictments charging 13 people with smuggling Asian women
into the U.S. and forcing them into prostitution.
Seven of those people are now in custody. Six remain at large. All but one
are legal residents of the United States. At least two came to America as
refugees after the Vietnam War.
Federal authorities say those under indictment were associated with four
separate organizations that, for the most part, operated in friendly
The federal indictments and affidavits --- some based on accounting records
seized from suspected brothels in and around Chamblee and northeast Atlanta
--- detail vividly the lives the smuggled women led as prostitutes. They
also document the lucrative nature of the suspect operations and shine a
spotlight on organized crime in Atlanta's Vietnamese and Chinese communities.
For more than two years --- from Nov. 1, 1995, to March 9, 1998, when it
was raided --- one of those brothels was in a brown, one-story house near
Shallowford Road and I-85.. The wooded lot was enclosed by an eight-foot
chain link fence topped with barbed wire. It was guarded by two large dogs
and armed men with suspected ties to Vietnamese gangs, federal affidavits
say. It was the only house on a dead-end road, DeKalb police say, and
attracted little attention from anyone but its clientele.
Investigators learned from customers who frequented the brothel that it was
furnished with seven mattresses in five bedrooms. Other than the mattress,
each bedroom had only a garbage can, condoms, a bottle of mouth wash, a jar
of lubricant, and a pile of folded towels.
It attracted 30 to 40 customers a night. On weekends, as many as 100 men
visited, a federal affidavit said. In the 28 months it was in operation,
the brothel earned more than $1.5 million, Gordon said.
The majority of the prostitutes were teenagers, many of them minors,
federal affidavits say. As many as 400 prostitutes, many of them juveniles,
passed through the brothel before it was raided last year, Gordon said.
U.S. authorities have charged Ninh Vinh Luong, also known as Ah Lynn, with
owning and operating the brothel. After the 1988 raid, federal authorities
say, Luong moved the brothel to Beacon Hill Apartments in Chamblee. The
brothel cleared $267,000 in six months, Gordon said, before Luong abandoned
that location after neighbors became suspicious. "People would beep horns
and shine lights to intimidate the customers," she said.
Dominic Pham, president of the Vietnamese Community of Georgia, said he
believes few of Atlanta's Vietnamese residents knew of the brothels'
existence. "Those that are aware of that," he said, "are scared to report
to the police. They are scared of revenge from whoever they report, from
Lani Wong, chairwoman of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of
Chinese-Americans, said news of the indictments was a shock. "Everybody
feels so outraged about this thing happening," she said. "We cannot imagine
people doing this."
Luong told federal pre-trial service workers that until his arrest he was a
janitor at a Chinese restaurant on Buford Highway. But federal authorities
contend Luong was "the kingpin" of at least four brothels, Gordon said in a
detention hearing last week.
And for a janitor, Luong was an elaborate spender, authorities say. They
say he spent thousands of dollars on food and alcohol for his friends at
Atlanta nightclubs and gambled in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, N.J., and
Gordon said Luong also is suspected of membership in the Hip Sing tong, a
criminal offshoot of the Hip Sing Association.
Hip Sing --- one of the Chinese community's most prominent fraternal
organizations --- is a century-old association rooted in the secret
societies of ancient China. In America, it often serves as an unofficial
Chinese chamber of commerce. But some of its members have been targeted by
federal authorities investigating organized crime in America's Asian
communities. In Atlanta and New York, indictments have charged members with
running illegal gambling dens, laundering money, extortion, loan-sharking,
and bribery and hiring Asian street gangs to protect criminal enterprises
Three years ago, elders of the Hip Sing Association in Doraville were
indicted on charges of operating an illegal casino that laundered drug
money. Among those convicted of money-laundering was Ah Chu "Teddy" Chan,
who then owned the Bamboo Luau Chinese Restaurant on Cheshire Bridge Road
Federal prosecutors say that one of the suspected brothel madams named in
the federal indictments is Micha "Ah Fa" Johnson, Teddy Chan's girlfriend.
She is on the run from federal authorities. To Ha "Ah Ha" Vuong, a third
suspected brothel owner indicted by the grand jury, also is believed to be
"a fairly high level member" of Hip Sing, a federal affidavit said. Vuong
is a co-owner of the First China Restaurant on Buford Highway in Doraville.
He also is a fugitive.
Federal authorities say that both First China and the Bamboo Luau were
recruiting grounds for brothel managers and their employees, who solicited
restaurant customers and taxied them to the brothels.
Many of those customers, who were videotaped going in and out of the
brothels by federal agents, have now become federal witnesses, prosecutors
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