Eleven Queens residents were among 19 people indicted last week for their alleged connections to a prostitution-based money laundering operation.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly announced the indictments on Nov. 21, saying they are the result of a 16-month investigation that focused on an advertising firm that placed ads for prostitution services in print and online publications in New York City.
Schneiderman, in statement issued by his office, said the 180-count indictment includes claims of money laundering, falsifying business records, possession and sale of narcotics, promoting prostitution and conspiracy.
Two women who are the alleged victims of sex trafficking were found during the execution of warrants and are being kept in protective custody.
“The investigation led to the arrest of multiple individuals who were part of a criminal enterprise that made millions of dollars by profiting off the exploitation of women,” Schneiderman said. “The message we are sending is clear: these crimes will not be tolerated in New York State.”
The 269-page complaint alleges that Somad Enterprises, Inc., operated as an ad agency out of a W. 25th Street address in Manhattan and remote locations in Queens, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Philippines.
The complaint alleges that Somad used numerous shell companies created with false information in order to process millions of dollars worth of credit card transactions which hid the true nature of the charges by claiming the services provided included cleaning, acupuncture, antiques and party planning rather than sex or, in some cases, drugs.
A review of Somad’s financial documents between January 2010 and October 2012 allegedly shows that prostitution businesses paid the firm more than $3 million to promote them.
The ongoing investigation was initiated by the attorney general’s Organized Crime Task Force as it was looking into money laundering suspicions connected with “backpage” advertising, its origins and patterns.
Investigators allegedly discerned “a pattern of advertising coming from Somad and followed the money trail.” The NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau also was brought in, and subsequent digging allegedly uncovered prostitution and narcotics activity.
Law enforcement employed wiretaps, physical and electronic surveillance and the review of bank, tax and other financial records.
Schneiderman and Kelly cited by name examples of publications that ran prostitution ads from Somad Enterprises, which they said “created, monitored, facilitated and employed online (on Backpage.com, for example) and print (in the Village Voice, for example) advertisements and cable television commercials to knowingly and systematically promote prostitution for its clients’ large- and small-scale prostitution businesses ...”
“All anyone needs to do is open a copy of The Village Voice to get a good sense of how classified advertising and prostitution go hand in hand, particularly in the prostitution of Asian women,” Kelly said. He added that their focus is and will continue to be the profiteers and johns engaged in promoting prostitution.
“Not the women exploited by them,” the commissioner said.
Ann Jawin, founder of the Center for Women of New York, has long been an advocate for women who are victims of sex trafficking, and an outspoken critic of media outlets that carry ads for prostitution services.
She was particularly impressed with the 16-month duration.
“It shows they’re working on it,” Jawin said. “Not a lot of people know about this, because it only has been getting publicity for the last few years. But people have to know that patronizing one of these women is not just a fun night out. It places you in a crime scene.”
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) wrote the law against distribution of so-called “chica cards” that advertise prostitution services. He expressed confidence on Wednesday that the investigation will result in more arrests.
“We have to dispel this notion that prostitution is a victimless crime,” he said in a statement issued by his office. “Women from around the world and across the country are brought here and enslaved, forced to have sex with strangers for the profit of human traffickers and pimps.”
Queens residents named in the indictment include Christopher Fairbairn, 24, of Forest Hills; Ying Lla, 48, of Bayside; Jay King, 52, of Whitestone; Woo Yang, 60, of Oakland Gardens; Wei Qu, 51, of Flushing; Juan Hue Niu, 40, of Flushing; Woosub Kim, 46, of Flushing Meadows; Sun T. Fink, 61, of Flushing; Melanie Reyes, 27, of Jamaica; Si In Kang, 58, Flushing; and Jacob Kim, 36, of Flushing.
Others include Xiao Jing Qiao, 25, of Brooklyn; Milagros Katz, 50, of Jersey City; Sean Bagdonas, 37, of Lake Ariel, Penn.; Victor Concepcion, 45, of Caivta, Rizal, Philippines; Arlene Meyers, 67, of Hendersonville, NC; No Mi Kwon, 49, of Palisades Park, NJ; Fannie Hubbard, 23, of Yonkers; and Rensuhn Kang, 53, whose residence was listed as New York.
Schneiderman’s statement said all face up to 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison. The ongoing investigation also has resulted in the arrest of three johns.
Other agencies involved included the New York State Police, the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance, the Department of Homeland Security and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.