Owner of raided Central El Paso massage business appears in court
By Adriana M. Chávez / El Paso Times
Posted: 10/19/2012 06:54:05 AM MDT
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Soon Kim was led by ICE agents out of El Paso County Jail Thursday. (Victor Calzada / El Paso Times)
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The owner of a Central El Paso massage business faces an international sex-trafficking charge that might involve forcing women into prostitution.
Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations arrested In Soon Kim, owner of the Kyoto Hot Stone Spa, 616 N. Virginia, during a raid Wednesday afternoon. Kim faces a federal charge of inducing or coercing an individual into interstate or foreign commerce for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.
Kim, 61, made her first court appearance Thursday afternoon. U.S. Magistrate Judge Norbert Garney told Kim the charge against her carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if she's convicted. The details of what Kim is charged with were explained during the hearing.
Through a Korean interpreter who relayed the information to Kim over speaker phone, Kim told Garney she understood the charge, and near the end of the hearing, she asked Garney, "I can go home today?"
Garney told Kim he will determine whether or not she should be released on bond during a hearing at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
According to a profile for Kyoto Hot Stone Spa on backpage.com, a classified advertising website, the spa offers Swedish and shiatsu massage and "table showers" at a rate of $50 per half-hour. The spa is also ranked on several websites in which users review
businesses that allegedly offer erotic massages.
Federal officials did not want to comment about the case.
According to the Washington D.C.-based Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking organization, there are more than 5,000 brothels in the United States disguised as Asian massage parlors.
The pricing structure at such establishments are about the same: "johns" pay a house fee between $60 to $90 per half hour. Women employed at the massage parlor are pressured to "please the customer" in order to receive tips by participating in sexual activity.
Asian massage parlors typically operate in strip malls, office buildings or medical complexes, and advertise legitimate massage services on mainstream websites such as Craigslist and Backpage, or sometimes advertise the services through newspapers and billboards.
Often, massage parlor employees are in the U.S. illegally and are forced to participate in the prostitution scheme to pay off smuggling debts, after being told false promises of a better life, or under the fear they will be turned over to authorities because of their immigration status, according to the Polaris Project.
Women found working in the massage parlors typically live on-site, and are shuttled from brothel to brothel periodically. They often work long hours, and the owners of many establishments keep the doors locked and use security systems to monitor clients, who can enter the premises only by ringing a buzzer.
Last year, ICE and FBI agents, along with Las Cruces police, served search warrants at two Las Cruces massage parlors, Bally Hot Stone Spa on South Don Roser Drive, and Green Hot Stone Relaxation Spa on Hillrise Drive. After that raid, three women -- Hyang Sook Kim, 45, an employee of Green Hot Stone Spa, and Bally Hot Stone Spa employees Myung Hee Ok, 49, and Suk Cha Lowrey, 62 -- were charged in New Mexico state district court with promoting prostitution and accepting the earnings of a prostitute.
At the time, federal agents told the Las Cruces Sun-News they were looking into whether the two Las Cruces spas were connected to other locations in New Mexico, Texas or elsewhere in the country.
Adriana M. Chávez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6117. Follow her on Twitter @AChavezEPTimes