SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced the arrest of four suspects accused of operating a sex trafficking ring out of Emeryville, California. Acucare Oriental Massage co-owner Jimmy Gong Lee and Tom Loi are also accused of making bribes to an Emeryville Police Captain—who was working undercover, posing as a corrupt officer—to further their illegal business operations.
Today’s arrests are the result of a joint investigation by the California Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the California Attorney General’s Tax Recovery and Criminal Enforcement Task Force, the Emeryville Police Department, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Northern and Eastern Districts of California.
“Human trafficking is one of the world’s most profitable criminal enterprises, and it is having a devastating impact right here in our own backyard,” said Attorney General Harris. “Each year, thousands of women and children of all ages and backgrounds are forced into labor and prostitution. I thank our local, state and federal partners for fighting this serious threat and bringing these perpetrators to justice.”
“Illegal ventures like this degrade the quality of life in our neighborhoods as well as the women involved,” said Tatum King, acting special agent in charge of HSI San Francisco. “HSI will continue to work closely with its law enforcement partners to identify, disrupt, and dismantle these kinds of enterprises that prey on the vulnerable and often bring other criminal activity into the area.”
Defendants Jimmy Gong Lee, 55, Tom Loi 59, Wei Kuang, 56 and Rong Liu, 37, were arrested today and face a total of 30 felony state charges for their respective roles in the operation. The charges include conspiracy, pimping, pandering, bribery, and tax fraud. Lee and Loi are being held at the San Francisco County Jail and Kuang and Liu are being held at the Alameda County Jail on $150,000 bail each and will be prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office. Lee and Loi are also facing federal charges.
The joint investigation revealed that Acucare Oriental Massage was operating as a brothel, with young Asian females being used for commercial sex and being replaced every two weeks. Lee and Liu owned the business while Kuang worked at the front desk, collected money, and provided condoms. A series of undercover operations revealed that “johns” (men paying for sex) would be buzzed in to enter the business, pay approximately $60 to Kuang, and then select a “masseuse” from a group of women. The women would then negotiate further fees for sexual services, a portion of which was given back to Kuang.
When Emeryville authorities began questioning the legitimacy of the business, Lee gave Loi thousands of dollars to pay off an Emeryville Police Captain, who was working undercover as a corrupt police officer. In a series of recorded meetings between March 2013 and May 2014, Loi gave the Captain a total of $24,000 in bribes—roughly $2,000 a month—not to shut down Acucare.
On June 5, 2014, agents with the California Department of Justice and HSI executed search warrants on the Acucare Oriental Massage in Emeryville and Lee’s residence in San Francisco. In addition to shutting down Acucare, agents recovered $69,000 cash, and evidence showing that Lee, Liu and Kuang were operating a brothel.
Attorney General Harris has made the fight against human trafficking a priority for the California Department of Justice. In March of this year, the Office of the Attorney General released a report, Gangs Beyond Borders: California and the Fight Against Transnational Organized Crime, which is the first comprehensive report analyzing the current state of transnational criminal organizations in California (http://oag.ca.gov/transnational-organized-crime). The report identified human trafficking as one of the emerging activities being undertaken by these organizations, and made recommendations to address this issue, including funding state task forces to investigate and disrupt these organizations.
Attorney General Harris has been a strong advocate for increased collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies during the investigation and prosecution of the crime of human trafficking. She has also advocated for early and frequent collaboration between law enforcement and victim service providers.
In 2012, Attorney General Harris created a Human Trafficking Work Group and released a report, The State of Human Trafficking in California, which outlined the growing prevalence of the crime of human trafficking in the state (http://www.oag.ca.gov/human-trafficking/2012). The report describes the evolving challenges California faces in addressing this crime, which has become a $32 billion-a-year global industry. California—a populous border state with a significant immigrant population—is one of the top destinations for trafficking human beings.
Please note that these are only allegations and, as with all defendants, those named here must be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.