Three massage parlor owners coerced their employees into having sex with customers in exchange for money for more than a year at their spas in Denver and Lakewood, according to a human trafficking investigation led by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
A state grand jury indicted Hye Kyeung Seo, 49, Sang Hyon Shim, 59, and Seon Hee Wolf, 55, on 19 counts including pattern of racketeering, human trafficking for sexual servitude, conspiracy, pimping and money laundering, court documents filed in Denver District Court show.
The indictments cap a yearlong investigation by several law enforcement agencies in the Denver metro area, alleging that two workers were coerced into having sex with coworkers while they were employed at Jewel Spa in Denver and ABC Spa, Pine Therapy and A Spa, in Lakewood. Authorities say each location had two to three women working at any time, and it’s possible others were coerced into having sex for money. Nine people are receiving support services in the investigation’s wake.
All four locations had a small bedroom where it looked as if employees were living. All three parlors had online reviews in which customers wrote they paid for sex with employees, listing the prices, court documents stated. Some had condoms hidden in various parts of the spas, including in a chewing gum container, investigators found.
Attorney General Phil Weiser called human trafficking a “growing problem” across Colorado and a “high priority” for law enforcement, during a news conference Friday to announce the indictment.
“Human traffickers are often going to use and do use these illicit massage businesses where they’re exploiting workers, causing them great emotional and physical pain and suffering,” Weiser said.
The investigation, which earned the undercover name “Bedazzle,” was launched about a year ago when a male customer walked into Jewel Spa, thinking it was a legitimate massage business, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said. He was solicited for a sexual act, which he declined, but when speaking to the female employee, she began to cry.
The man called Denver police to report what happened, McCann said, commending him for “seeing something and saying something.”
One woman who was forced to have sex with customers told investigators she was afraid of Seo and that he would yell and throw things when he became angry, court documents stated. When other employees didn’t follow his instructions, he broke their phones, she said.
The other woman had sex with about 10 men per day, court documents said.
Investigators used bank, business and phone records to connect the operators to the alleged human trafficking scheme, which is believed to have spanned at least January 2021 through March, court documents stated.
Shim, Wolf and Seo used the profits to further fund illegal prostitutuon and human trafficking, Weiser said. The three are also accused of trying to disguise the source of their income through casinos, money orders and repeated small cash deposits through ATMs.
Lakewood and Wheat Ridge police departments assisted in the investigation, along with the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Shim, Wolf and Seo have turned themselves in, Weiser said.
Last summer, Denver City Council passed an ordinance requiring massage business to be licensed in the city, which McCann said will assist Denver’s law enforcement to prevent human trafficking. The ordinance goes into effect July 1.
The victims were offered support services through the Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance and the Asian Pacific Development Center, McCann said.
CORRECTION: This story was corrected at 5:27 p.m. on April 8, 2022 to clarify that a state grand jury returned the indictment.
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