Parlor owner denies charges

Oriental Spa proprietor is accused of trying to bribe authorities

`I don't know U.S. law'

Elkridge

March 05, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Standing in front of his closed Oriental Spa massage parlor in Elkridge, a jittery Sung Yul "Peter" Kim lit a cigarette from the pack he kept in his left sock, gestured at the white Mercedes he had just retrieved from the Howard County police and proclaimed his innocence in halting English.

"No, I'm not guilty. Really, I don't know U.S. law," the 65-year old Fort Lee, N.J., resident said, referring to accusations that he tried to pay a state inspector and two Howard County police officers for false documents and to have them lean on his competitors in the U.S. 1 corridor. He faces three attempted bribery charges.

Late last week, Howard County police and federal immigration officers raided his spa, in the 6300 block of Washington Blvd., arrested Kim and seized $1 million in cash of what they say were laundered illicit proceeds from four of Kim's bank accounts. Officers also arrested three women charged as illegal immigrants.

Federal affidavits used to obtain the money allege that Kim wanted the officials he paid to harass Howard County competitors in North Laurel and Guilford so he could buy their businesses cheaply. He is also accused of offering $300,000 to the police, who were posing as corrupt officers, to buy 20 fake green cards and other fake identification for his female employees. The business, the affidavits said, was used as a front for illegal sexual services.

But Kim said yesterday that he was confused and has lost his money and his business, though he must still pay $2,400 a month rent. A sign taped to the front door proclaimed the spa closed by order of Howard County's Department of Inspection, Licenses and Permits.

"I don't know [the] law. It's not fair," Kim said, adding that the money seized was earned over a 30-year period. He would like to reopen his spa, or maybe a larger one, he said, but his employees are gone, some to the New Jersey area, he said.

Kim said he has no money and feels authorities are "cheating me." Law enforcement officials said Kim has property in South Korea worth $3 million, and has traveled to the Far East and Libya in recent years.

The case began 14 months ago, when Paul Murphy, the state's lone inspector for massage parlors, reported to State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli that Kim tried to bribe him. Montanarelli's office investigated, using Howard police officers to pose as corrupt police officers until the arrest and raid last week.

Murphy's boss, James Vallone, executive director of the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners, said the situation alleged at Oriental Spa fits a pattern found between Baltimore and Washington.

"We've had a steady problem of massage therapists using forged documents or using legitimate documents to practice prostitution," he said. Murphy monitors the spas, Vallone said, by checking daily ads that appear in newspapers.

"The bulk of these women are not illegals," he said, and are not working against their will, but choose to practice illegally to make money. When arrests occur or when the state revokes legitimate licenses used illegally, the women often move on to places farther north, he said.

"In 2003, we shut down 23 massage parlors in the state of Maryland," he said, explaining that county governments control the business licenses of the parlors.

In the past three years, Anne Arundel County spokeswoman Pam Jordan said, the parlors there have been virtually eliminated by the forced closure of six businesses through an effort by zoning, police and fire inspectors. "We have no active cases," she said.

Howard County tried a police sting operation in 1995, but most charges were dropped after revelations that police officers involved received sexual services during the investigation. The Oriental Spa was closed briefly in 2002 for building violations.

Kim, who is free on $100,000 bail, waited in the Golder Bail Bonds office next to his spa as two middle-aged women joined him.

Other business owners in the shopping center said the spa has not been a problem, except for its image and reputation.

"People come in and ask, `What is going on over there?' " said Crystal Stiner, manager of a tanning salon a few doors away.

Kim Gaspari, a barber at Main Street Barbers, said the spa doesn't fit with her shop's family image.

"We do a lot of kids," she said, noting that spa customers often park away from the front door and walk past the barbershop to the spa.

Sun staff writer Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.

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