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Monterey Park - Brothel house / human trafficking 08/07/10

 
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 11, 2010 1:35 pm    Post subject: Monterey Park - Brothel house / human trafficking 08/07/10 Reply with quote

ICE busts San Gabriel Valley prostitution ring
By Frank C. Girardot Staff Writer
Posted: 08/10/2010 05:06:04 PM PDT



A string of brothels in the San Gabriel Valley used sophisticated covert operations in residential neighborhoods to avoid detection by authorities, authorities said Tuesday.

The brothels, which operated in Monterey Park, Alhambra and Rowland Heights, employed Chinese immigrants and used private homes to set up meetings between johns and hookers, officials said.

"The San Gabriel Valley has got a reputation for Asian prostitution rings," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Immigration and Custom Enforcement's office of Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles. "What we're starting to see is they are trying to be more discreet and they've moved to residential neighborhoods."

Arrested Saturday on federal charges of conspiracy to "harbor, hold, (and) maintain an alien for the purposes of prostitution" were Huagui "Stephanie" Lotto, aka "Candy," 53, of Rowland Heights, Calif., Lotto's husband, Phillip Fu, 47, of Rowland Heights, Calif., and Yibin Zhang, 45, of Monterey Park.

Fu, alleged by authorities to be the operation's overseas recruiter, was additionally charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, officials said.

All three are currently being held without bond, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice.

"There will be detention hearings (to determine if they will get out on bond) for all three on Thursday afternoon. Arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 30," Mrozek said.

ICE agents also arrested Jian "David" Gao, 42, of Arcadia. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office charged Gao with two counts of pimping, pandering and procuring, according to spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.

Gao appeared in court Tuesday afternoon and pleaded not guilty. He is being held in the Twin Towers jail in lieu of $60,000 bail, Gibbons said.

"We're saying he ran a whorehouse - a brothel - in San Gabriel employing Asian women between October 2009 and this month," Gibbons said.

Authorities were tipped to the prostitution ring by an customer who was facing deportation, Vardan Grigoryan, a special agent with ICE, wrote in a federal affidavit.

The customer, referred to as a "source of information," told agents that Lotto was luring female students to the United States using fake documents and fraudulent marriages, then using the women as prostitutes.

"We did not identify any of the women in this case who were acting as prostitutes through force, fraud or coercion," Arnold said. "But even if they are here willingly they are being exploited as a mere commodity by the owners of these businesses."

The informant had been ordered deported, but after cooperating with authorities, he was granted "temporary parole" until the investigation was completed.

The informant told investigators that Lotto only accepted customers who were referred to her and did not accept "walk-up customers."

Lotto advertised her services via a business card that appeared to have come from a florist.

Johns typically paid her between $120 and $250 for sex with a prostitute of their choosing.

In January, in the initial days of their investigation, ICE agents stopped Lotto at LAX, where they searched her luggage, Grigoryan wrote.

In one suitcase the agent described finding several documents, including copies of passports, notarized documents from the Chinese government and several cartons of cigarettes.

During the operation, one female Chinese national believed to be employed by the defendants was taken into ICE custody on immigration violations.

Besides several brothels, agents believe the ring operated an out-call service for select clients in the San Gabriel Valley.

Lotto and Fu also drew the attention of agents for purchases at Costco. The pair bought napkins, handwipes and sanitizers in bulk, Gregoryan noted.

"Based on my training and experience these have been essential items found in locations where prostitution is conducted."

The federal charge of importing and harboring an alien for purposes of prostitution carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, while conspiracy to commit marriage fraud is punishable by up to five years in prison, officials said.

The state charges - both of which call for mandatory state prison commitment upon conviction - carry a maximum sentence of seven years and four months, ICE officials said.

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