Law enforcement officers arrested six people last week for running a prostitution ring that operated out of hotels or apartments in Kent, Bellevue, Renton, Tukwila, Federal Way, Seattle, and several other cities.
Search warrants were served at more than 30 locations as part of an investigation into an organized crime ring involved with prostitution, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office media release. All face charges of conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution
Four of the six people arrested are from Seattle, one is from Renton, and one from New York.
“These defendants ran an organized prostitution ring with tentacles into many of our cities and towns,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “The search warrants executed today (Thursday) are part of our ongoing investigation. We are committed to working closely with our state and local partners to ensure we identify and hold all those responsible to account, including anyone involved in human trafficking or exploitation crimes.”
The defendants rented apartments and hotels for prostitution, advertised on backpage.com, and other websites and cycled sex workers through locations across the West.
“Partnership is critical in dismantling organized crime syndicates like this one because they span multiple jurisdictions,” said special agent in charge Jay S. Tabb, Jr. of the FBI’s Seattle Field Office. “Our goal is to disrupt networks, not just arrest select individuals or stem criminal activity in one area, only to watch it emerge in another. By working jointly across Washington, local, state and federal law enforcement partners can eliminate the threat that organized crime groups pose to our residents.”
According to the complaint, federal and local law enforcement partners worked jointly to investigate a criminal ring making hundreds of thousands of dollars through the prostitution of Asian sex workers. In partnership with the FBI, the King County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Bellevue, Redmond, Renton, Seattle and Tukwila identified numerous brothel locations through their analysis of backpage.com, cellphone and other business records.
The joint team of local and federal investigators then conducted surveillance of the ring’s activities. Law enforcement determined that multiple locations were linked to the organization via ads placed with websites. The investigation revealed that the same internet protocol (IP) addresses were used for placing many of the ads, and phone numbers associated with the ads were linked as well–in some instances to call centers in New York and Washington, D.C.
In other cases, the law enforcement agencies followed up on citizen complaints about apartments being operated as prostitution locations and confirmed that the organization was in fact conducting prostitution in those locations.
The investigation revealed that the apparent leader of the operation spent approximately $100,000 to increase the traffic to her ads on the backpage.com site. Other defendants played different roles – renting apartments, transporting sex workers to various locations, purchasing supplies, collecting money from the sex workers and placing ads.
Prostitution activities associated with the ring occurred in apartments or hotels located in Bellevue, Kent, Kirkland, Lynnwood, Olympia, Lacey, Puyallup, Renton, Tukwila, Seattle and Federal Way. Other locations where the ring operated include Eastern Washington cities such as Richland, Kennewick, Wenatchee and Spokane. The sex workers were frequently moved throughout the area.
Conspiracy is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
This story originally appeared in the Kent Reporter.