Six people face federal indictments for running a widespread prostitution ring that stretched from Bellevue to northern Virginia.
The suspects advertised Asian women for ‘massage services’ on backpage.com, and leased apartments in Bellevue and Kirkland, Scottsdale, Arizona, Chicago, Illinois, and Falls Church/Tysons Corner, Virginia, according to U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in Seattle.
The six men were indicted for conspiracy to transport individuals for prostitution, conspiracy to use a communications facility to promote prostitution and conspiracy to engage in money laundering.
“These defendants exploited vulnerable women immigrants to enrich themselves,” said Durkan. “We will work with our partners to stop this exploitation. I commend the member of our community who alerted law enforcement.
The indictments followed an undercover investigation involving the King County Sheriff’s Office, the Kirkland Police Department, the Bellevue Police Department, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The investigation was prompted by initial reports of prostitution activity at a Kirkland apartment complex. Detectives found six people were working together.
According to Durkan, many of the women – most from Thailand – were in the U.S. illegally, having overstayed their visas. They reportedly owed as much as $60,000 to the leader of the ring, 34-year-old Unruean Aboulafia of Bellevue. She’s a Thai national in the U.S. illegally who allegedly recruited the women from Thailand.
According to the indictment, the women knew they were being brought to the United States for prostitution.
The indictment also names Thai national Thanyathorn Mohr, 35, of Bellevue, Jeff Chu, 48, a U.S citizen living in Bellevue, Xinping Zhang, 39, a legal Chinese national and Chu’s ex-wife, Edward Flaingan, 57, of Federal Way, and Steven Aboulafia, 59, the ringleader’s ex-husband.
“This case is more than prostitution, money laundering, and conspiracy. It is about human trafficking,” said King County Sheriff John Urquhart. “The Sheriff’s Office is committed to fighting human trafficking and holding responsible those who engage in this despicable activity.”