SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — Five people have been charged with operating a lucrative prostitution network that stocked brothels in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland with illegal immigrants from Asia, authorities announced Tuesday.
A federal indictment unsealed in Scranton said women from China, Korea, Taiwan and other Asian nations worked in massage parlors and motel rooms, earning hundreds of thousands for ringleaders who laundered some of the money by purchasing expensive watches and cars.
It was a “criminal organization that operated numerous businesses as a cover for their prostitution network, all in an effort to make a buck,” John Kelleghan, a Philadelphia-based U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent, said at a news conference in Scranton.
“We have successfully carved out the infectious and nefarious activities these businesses brought to the communities in which they were located,” he added.
None of the prostitutes were juveniles, nor were they held against their will, authorities said. Federal immigration officials have detained a dozen women pending further investigation.
U.S. Attorney Peter Smith declined to reveal on Tuesday how they were recruited or how much money the prostitution ring took in. But a six-count racketeering indictment seeks the forfeiture of about $700,000, including more than $320,000 in cash, a 2011 BMW 550i, a Rolex watch and two 3-D televisions. Smith said the amount that authorities are seeking through forfeiture could go higher.
The indictment said that customers paid a “door charge” of $50 per half-hour or $60 per hour, all of which went to the ringleaders. The prostitutes derived their income from tips. They worked one or two weeks at one location before being moved to another location as the ring tried to avoid detection by law enforcement, the indictment said.
The network used massage parlors and spas in Tannersville, Bartonsville, Plains and Moosic, all in Pennsylvania, and one in Overlea, Md. Various motels in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were also used, according to court documents.
Smith identified Lih Kang “Michael” Shen, 46, of Stroudsburg, as the leader of the prostitution ring. Shen’s attorney did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.
The other defendants are John Vincent Ferraro, 45, of Bartonsville; Young Ja “Micky” Youn, 45, of Stroudsburg; Yu Cheng “Ricky” Lee, 35, of Tannersville; and Chin Hsia “Judy” Chen, 56, of New York City. Attorneys for Ferraro, Youn and Lee did not immediately return phone messages. It’s not clear if Chen has a lawyer.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)