Tuesday’s arrest of three Asian women for prostitution and conspiracy at a a spa in Bridgeville, Penn., have investigators trying to determine if human trafficking is involved.
Chong Hee Kil, 57, from Glenville, Ill., is charged with prostitution and conspiracy; Heemae Jeong, 58, from Fort Lee, N.J., also is charged with prostitution and conspiracy; and Ok Ja Ko, 52, from Aurora, Colo., faces charges of prostitution and conspiracy, as well as an additional charge of promoting prostitution.
Ko is "the suspected madam,” according to Bridgeville Police Chief Chad King.
According to an Internet search, Kil also was charged in 2006 with promoting prostitution in Toledo, Ohio.
The arrests came after a six-month investigation conducted by local police and members of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Anti-Trafficking Coalition. made up of agents from the FBI, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and state and local law enforcement officers.
Shortly before noon yesterday, task force agents raided the spa after Ko and Kil agreed to have sex with an undercover officer for $320, task force agent Thomas DeTemple wrote in a criminal complaint.
During the raid, authorities seized several thousand dollars in cash hidden throughout the spa, numerous massage tables and evidence that may link the spa to human trafficking, according to King.
“When we started this investigation back in July based on complaints of suspicious activity from neighbors, we were very concerned that human trafficking was involved,” King said.
“I often saw men of all ages, mostly older men coming and going from (the spa),” said Justin Owens who owns a nearby business.
“In this case it appears to be more than prostitution; it’s human trafficking,” King added.
However, King added “all three women were interviewed by ICE agents shortly after their arrests, but denied being there against their will. However, it’s not uncommon for human trafficking victims to deny being held against their will.
“Even though the three women are older, they are all from out of state and have no local ties, making me suspicious that their denials are legitimate,” said King.
Indeed, all three were jailed after telling investigators “they wanted to leave Pennsylvania and not return,” DeTemple said in the complaint.
According to King, all three women lived in the spa which could only be accessed by a doorway located in the alley.
According to a 2011 report on human trafficking by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, this case appears to have certain human trafficking characteristics. For example, 48 percent of human trafficking that occurred between January 2008 and June 2010 involved adult prostitution.
Eighty-three percent of victims of human trafficking cases were identified as U.S. citizens. Also, 8 in 10 of suspected human trafficking cases were classified as sex trafficking.
King said that federal authorities are continuing the investigation to determine who the “ringleader is and if there is definitely human trafficking involved.”
Editor's Note: This article contains original reporting from the author's interview with King.
Bridgeville spa arrests trigger look into human trafficking, triblive.com, Feb. 6, 2013