Federal agents seize funds

Massage parlor operator accused of bribery try in running prostitution ring

Alleged use of illegal immigrants

N.J. man said to offer Howard officer $300,000 for fake green cards

March 04, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Federal immigration agents have seized more than $1 million from bank accounts belonging to a Howard County massage parlor operator who officials allege ran a prostitution ring using illegal immigrants as sex workers.

Federal affidavits related to the seizure of money from Sung Yul Kim, 65, describe a wide-ranging operation that also dealt in bribery, money-laundering, falsified documents and other illegal activities in a bid to drive competitors out of business.

Kim, who lives in Fort Lee, N.J., is accused of offering to buy 20 fake green cards for illegal immigrants for $300,000 and paying a Howard County police lieutenant working undercover more than $4,000. The police officer was supposed to obtain fake documents and harass other parlor owners in the U.S. 1 corridor, according to federal affidavits used to obtain a warrant for Kim's four bank accounts.

Kim wanted to buy two other massage parlors and corner the flesh trade in Howard County, the federal affidavits allege.

The naturalized citizen was arrested Friday and charged with three counts of trying to bribe a state inspector and two Howard County police officers.

Kim, who has told investigators he is a former member of the South Korean CIA, was released on $100,000 bail late Monday and ordered to surrender his passport and remain in New Jersey until his trial. Three women found at his Oriental Spa in the 6300 block Washington Blvd. in Elkridge when police raided Kim's business are in custody as illegal immigrants, according to Allan Doody, special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A customer at the spa admitted to police that he had paid for sex there before the raid, the affidavit said.

Doody said federal authorities will seek forfeiture of the $1,037,804 seized as proceeds of alleged illegal activity, although Kim's attorney, James P. Ulwick, said, "We are planning to oppose it." Ulwick, of the Baltimore law firm Kramon and Graham, said Kim likely will fight the charges, and he said there is no reason to believe his client won't appear for trial.

Thomas M. McDonough, senior assistant state prosecutor, had opposed bail, arguing that Kim's local ties are "slim" and that he has traveled to Libya and Korea in recent years. McDonough said Kim owns $3 million in real estate in Korea.

According to the affidavit, Kim admitted to Howard police Lt. Keith Lessner that the spa is a cover for prostitution and that he routinely brings illegal immigrant women to Maryland from New York for sex work.

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli began investigating Kim more than a year ago after Paul Murphy, a state inspector, reported he had been offered bribes to harass other parlor operators so that Kim could buy the parlors cheaply.

Two Howard police officers posed as corrupt officials willing to take bribes to gather more evidence, Montanarelli's office said.

Doody said the cooperation among his agency, state police and Howard County police is "kind of unique," and the local agencies will share in the money if forfeiture succeeds.

Lessner received over a period of months more than $4,000 in alleged bribes, liquor, meals and jewelry, prosecutors allege, and in return he gave Kim two fake massage/therapist identification cards for women working in his spa.

Kim used fake Social Security numbers supplied by Lessner to open bank accounts, the affidavit said, which was part of an effort to launder proceeds from the business through various Kim family members and bank accounts. The documents claim that fees for legitimate massages were mingled with illegal payments for sex and filtered through the accounts.

One woman for whom Kim sought an identification card is said to have entered the United States illegally from Mexico after traveling there on a tourist visa from China in April 1999.

According to the affidavit, Kim later asked Lessner if he could obtain 20 fake green cards - working permits for immigrants - for which Kim would pay $15,000 each. He also is accused of offering to put Lessner on his payroll for $10,000 a month and to make him a partner when he bought the other parlors.

Detective Guy Williams, the other Howard officer working undercover, said in the affidavit that Kim told him he had traveled to Indonesia and saw a warehouse there containing hundreds of people waiting for documents to travel illegally to the United States.

Most of the women who make the trip end up as prostitutes working in massage parlors, the affidavit alleged. If they are arrested, they are often spirited away to parlors in other states if they are released.

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