Three Coloradans face felony charges for allegedly running a sex trafficking ring through four Denver-area massage parlors and laundering the profits from forcing several women to provide sex services.
A statewide grand jury indicted Hye Kyeung Seo and Sang Hyon Shim on 19 felony counts, including human trafficking for sexual servitude. A third defendant, Seon Hee Wolf, faces 15 charges in connection with the operation, including pimping and money laundering.
The three defendants ran four massage parlors: Jewel Spa in Denver and, in Jefferson County, Pine Therapy, ABC Spa and A Spa.
“What we need the public to understand is human trafficking is a growing problem – we see it in all corners of Colorado,” Attorney General Phil Weiser said at a news conference Friday announcing the indictment.
The investigation began more than a year ago when a man walked into Jewel Spa looking for a massage, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said. He thought the spa was a legitimate business and was surprised when a woman asked him if he wanted any sexual services. He told her no and, when he asked what was going on, the woman burst into tears, McCann said.
The man called police after leaving the business and reported the encounter.
Over the next year, police in Denver, Wheat Ridge and Lakewood built their case by pulling financial documents on the parlors, conducting surveillance and interviewing people connected to the businesses.
Though the indictment references only two women who were victims of sex trafficking, investigators believe there are many more victims connected to the parlors. Officers contacted at least nine women when they served search warrants on the properties in March, said Denver police Sgt. Aaron Kafer, who heads the department’s trafficking unit.
One of the victims told investigators that she came to Denver in November to work as a manager for A Spa. When she arrived, however, Seo told her she had to provide sex to customers if there were not enough workers, according to the indictment. When she refused, Seo yelled at her and threw things. The woman was also forced to pay Seo money for living expenses.
A second woman came to Denver in January and rotated between all four spas. The woman paid the spa managers a cut of what she was paid, as well as living expenses, according to the indictment.
The woman, who fled North Korea and was living in the US without authorization, said Seo used her immigration status as a threat against her.
The three defendants frequently moved women in and out of the spas and Shim made frequent trips to the Denver airport to pick up and drop off employees, according to the indictment. Many of the victims came from other states or countries, Kafer said.
Each of the massage parlors included a small makeshift living area where many of the women slept, according to the indictment. Condoms were hidden throughout the spas.
The websites for the four spas featured images of women dressed in lingerie. Users leaving reviews on a massage review website stated that they paid for sex at the parlors, according to the indictment.
All three defendants turned themselves in to police and their cases will continue in Denver District Court.
Weiser urged people with knowledge about human trafficking or victims of human trafficking to contact Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 866-455-5075 or texting 720-999-9724.