Operator of massage den accused in bribe try

Prosecutors say his plan was to oust competitors

Howard County

February 27, 2004|By Larry Carson and Lisa Goldberg | Larry Carson and Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The owner of an Elkridge massage parlor who prosecutors allege tried to bribe police and a state inspector as part of a scheme to take over his competitors was arrested yesterday after a 14-month investigation.

SungYul Kim, 65, of Fort Lee, N.J., was taken into custody by Howard County police at a Dorsey motel under a sealed, three-count indictment issued Feb. 11, said State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, whose office led the investigation. The misdemeanor charges were unsealed with his arrest, and convictions could lead to prison terms of up to 36 years and fines up to $15,000.

Kim, who operates the Oriental Spa in the 6300 block Washington Blvd., was ordered held without bail after a brief hearing in Howard County Circuit Court. Three women working in his spa were arrested on immigration violations during a search of the business, Montanarelli said.

Kim stood shackled at the ankles as Thomas M. McDonough, senior assistant state prosecutor, told Howard Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney that the massage parlor operator "has ready assets of over $2 million," has traveled back to Korea and to Libya several times in recent years, owns very little if any property in the United States and "will not appear for trial" if he is granted bail.

According to the indictments, Kim tried to recruit Paul Murphy, a state inspector who helps regulate massage parlors for the Maryland Chiropractic Board, into a scheme to pressure competing parlor owners so Kim could buy their businesses for low prices.

Murphy approached Montanarelli's office in November 2002, and two Howard County police officers - Lt. Keith Lessner and Detective Guy Williams - were brought in to pose as Murphy's accomplices in corruption.

Montanarelli said that during the investigation, Kim gave the men "very expensive" women's jewelry and "substantial amounts" of cash, though he refused to provide details. Kim is also said to have provided liquor and meals, hoping that the officials would harass operators of other spas so they would be eager to sell. The police used "electronic surveillance" to help gather evidence, Montanarelli said.

Kim appeared confused at the hearing and, although he became a U.S. citizen in 1979, he told Judge Sweeney that he speaks only "a little bit" of English. McDonough disputed that. A second hearing was scheduled for March 5 with a Korean interpreter in attendance.

McDonough also said Kim wanted to buy forged immigration documents from the officers and had one prior conviction for "unlawful sexual contact" in New Jersey.

Howard police have alleged the massage parlors involved in the case are prostitution operations, and raided six of them - including Oriental Spa - in a 1995 sting operation. But the cases fell apart in the face of charges that officers engaged in sexual acts to obtain evidence.

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