LAS VEGAS - An Asian prostitution ring that forced women smuggled into the United States to work in brothels across the country was a well-organized conspiracy that included a Las Vegas travel company, a federal prosecutor said.
Numerous brothels were set up in cities from Los Angeles to New York where five women would be rotated every 10 to 21 days, Assistant U.S. Attorney Blair Smith said during a detention hearing Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
Five suspects, including two men accused of being leaders of the group, were arrested Friday in Las Vegas by federal agents and local police following a two-year nationwide investigation dubbed Operation Jade Blade.
Tjui Ha, 45, was arrested in Rosemead, Calif., and is expected to be brought to Las Vegas to face charges. A suspect in Denver remains at large, FBI spokesman Joseph Dickey said. The FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service continue to investigate the case in several other major cities, he said.
Smith said the ring appears to have set up brothels in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York City, Atlanta and Minneapolis.
A Sept. 5 indictment charges all the suspects with conspiracy to violate federal law, including the smuggling and movement of illegal aliens, the interstate and foreign movement of women for illegal prostitution, interstate and foreign travel in aid of prostitution and money laundering.
Bank fraud and theft charges based on the alleged use of stolen credit cards to pay transportation costs for the prostitutes as they were moved from city to city are likely to be filed later, Smith said.
At the hearing Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Leavitt ordered Dat Ming Leung, 40, released on his own recognizance. Dan Chao, 25, and Cindy Tan, 43, were ordered to remain in custody pending trial.
The detention hearing for two other suspects - Ru Xiang Zhao, whose age is unknown, and Yuk Ching Liu, 51, was delayed until Monday at the request of defense attorneys.
According to federal prosecutors, Leung and Lui were leaders of the prostitution ring that used false documents to smuggle Asian women into the United States. Once here the women were forced to repay the smugglers by working in the brothels.
Ten women were arrested during the Friday night raid by the FBI, INS and Las Vegas police. Two of the women have since been released, and eight remain in INS custody facing deportation.
Smith said Wednesday Leung and Lui owned a travel business, Las Vegas Global Travel Inc., and allegedly used stolen credit cards to purchase tickets for the prostitutes as they were moved to different cities. Leung also had a business interest in a bus company, Smith said.
Kwok Chun, who is not named in the indictment, said he is the owner of Global Travel and knows nothing about the government's allegations of a illegal prostitution.
Tan is alleged to have run the daily operations of the Las Vegas brothels set up in an apartment building. Zhao allegedly worked for Leung and Lui, but later broke away and set up his own brothel in Las Vegas.