by: KIRO 7 News Updated:
KING CO., Wash. - Bellevue brothels, created by a website, held workers against their will and then trafficked them across the west coast, according to local law enforcement.
- 12 brothels in Bellevue
- 12 victims rescued, according to Bellevue police
- Women were victimized in 15 U.S. states
- At least one recent murder is related to the trafficking case
- National prostitution website, reviewboard.net, seized in investigation
How did this happen?
King County Sheriff John Urquhart, the Bellevue police chief, and an FBI special agent held a news conference on Wednesday and announced they investigated reviewboard.net and a website called “The League.”
According to investigators, who call the case backpage.com “on steroids,” reviewboard.net facilitated prostitution and “The League” started the brothels in Bellevue.
Twelve brothels, most that operated out of high-end Bellevue apartments, have been shut down. See where the brothels in Bellevue were located in the map below; click on a "point" for the apartment name.
Police say Donald Mueller and Michael Durnal ran the ring and sold women all over the county.
Local League members met regularly in public locations, such as a local pub or restaurant.
Eleven men – including Justin Yoon, Charles Peters, Paul Rhinehart, Sigurds Julijs Zitars, Noah Miles Jorgenson, Mark Kunio Yamada, Keith A. Emmanuel, Stephen Jason Jenkins, Richard Alexander Homchick, Lawrence Masaki – were arrested earlier this week. Many of the men were members of the online network.
Four on-site managers were arrested, according to police.
Who are the workers?
Most of the sex workers were brought to the U.S. illegally from South Korea. Women were victimized in 15 U.S. states, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney.
“These women are true victims,” Urquhart said. “We rescued them from a horrible situation.”
The women from brothels will not be charged as law enforcement said "they suffered abuse and humiliation." They rarely, if ever, left the apartments.
An early report into police claimed the women were brought from South Korea and coerced into prostitution to pay off family debt.
At least one recent murder is related to the trafficking trade; police said a sex buyer murdered a woman and set fire to the Bellevue luxury high-rise last year.
Why is this investigation called an "unprecedented" raid?
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Scatterberg said local law enforcement is not aware of another investigation nationwide that has targeted sex buyers.
The local investigation, which began in spring 2015, not only dismantled a national network of sex traffickers – but buyers, too.
It focused on how individuals and organizations used the Internet and social media to build and perpetuate a market for prostituted Asian women in the Pacific Northwest.
Investigators took “the unprecedented step of using a court order to seize the primary website used by the group,” according to a news release.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was in Seattle recently to announce a nationwide effort to combat sex trafficking. The city of Seattle received a $1.5 million grant to help end what Lynch called "modern-day slavery."
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