Bellevue's interim police chief says a widespread sex-trafficking investigation involving a Bellevue anesthesiologist underscores a significant problem on the Eastside and across the country.
A Federal probe accuses the doctor of running a widespread prostitution ring with his girlfriend, smuggling young women from Thailand into the country and setting them up in high-end apartments in Bellevue.
The doctor, who we are not naming because he has not been charged, is accused of advertising the women for sex on Backpage.com - a website best known for allowing advertising of sexual services.
KIRO Radio's Don O'Neill pointed out a search of the site reveals a surprising number of listings from Bellevue.
"It seems like if the prostitution and those ads, when you hit 'escort,' if it seems like it's not happening in Seattle, an awful lot of it seems to be happening Bellevue."
Bellevue Interim Police Chief Jim Montgomery agrees.
"We've been able to determine that there is a troubling amount of activity," Montgomery tells KIRO Radio's Ron and Don Show. "I think it's a significant problem and quite honestly the challenge is that it's not visible."
Investigators weren't looking into sex-trafficking when they began their investigation of the Bellevue anesthesiologist. Instead, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent stumbled upon it after launching a probe into huge sums of money the doctor was depositing into local ATMs.
While the DEA linked the doctor and his girlfriend to the Backpage ads and "residential brothels" across the city, detectives from Bellevue, King County, and other agencies launched a series of sting operations that connected the doctor with a number of women working as prostitutes.
Montgomery said the the stings led to far more prostitution activity in the city.
"As a result of our work in conjunction with this task force within the last several months, they've actually identified 10 juveniles involved in this kind of activity, some as young as 14 years old," he said.
While Bellevue is the center of the probe, Montgomery said the sex-trafficking problem extends far beyond the city.
"So from my perspective, it's not solely dependent on the Bellevue Police Department to solely address these problems," he said.
Don said he's troubled by the impact sex-trafficking has on the young women involved - many of whom are forced into the trade and share little of the profits.
"From what I read in the court documents, it seems like they come here, they work as sex slaves, they work 12-14 hours a day, they work seven days a week, and then they're shipped back to whatever country they came from," Don said.
According to Montgomery, law enforcement is working to tackle the problem from both sides, curbing both pimps and prostitutes as well as their customers.
"And there are a number of initiatives we are working on, in conjunction with our regional partners, to increase the likelihood that people are going to run into law enforcement as opposed to what they had in mind," said Montgomery.
Don hopes the effort is successful and men will think twice about the impact on those in the sex-trade, and themselves.
"I think men out there sometimes maybe don't realize that when it comes to trafficking these young women, not only are you blowing up their lives, but you can blow up your whole life when you're doing that."