PLANO –– A federal indictment alleges that a Richardson man operated 10 brothels that masqueraded as massage parlors in Collin, Dallas and Tarrant counties as part of a complex prostitution ring that stretched into at least five other states and generated more than $1 million since 2010.
Currently, 11 people face federal racketeering charges and another nine face state charges related to prostitution, said Malcolm Bales, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.
Sitting at the top of the seven-count federal indictment is Quyen Thuc “Tony” Ha, who’s accused of running the operation. The indictment frequently refers to the locations as “Tony’s Brothels.”
Ha is also accused of paying two detectives $305,000 since March 2011, thinking the money would prompt them to overlook the illegal operation and allow it to continue without interference. The detectives handed the money over to the FBI. Officials do not suspect any abuse of power related to the case.
“Both officers were merely pretending to be corrupt, and every dollar has been seized as evidence,” Bales said.
The investigation, known as Operation Flaming Dragon, began more than two years ago after Plano residents complained to police of suspicious behavior at certain massage parlors, said Chief Greg Rushin.
Plano police launched an investigation and quickly learned that Dallas police were also looking into similar reports there. At that point, Rushin alerted state and federal authorities, which aided the departments for more than two years.
“I’ve been the chief for 12 years, I’ve been in the office for 26 years working for the department and I have not seen anything of this scope involving prostitution,” Rushin said during a news conference Wednesday at the Plano Police Department.
The federal indictments allege that Ha managed his brothels alongside defendants Kim Sey “Tony” Lau and Li Yan Zhou, who promoted the locations using ads on websites like Backpage.com. Some remain live: they feature galleries of scantily clad Asian women and red and yellow text advertising ‘gentle touch’ massages for $40 for a half hour and $60 for an hour.
The feds allege that Ha and his colleagues transported prostitutes from California, Nevada and Georgia to Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Says the indictment, “the business enterprise pays for the prostitute’s airfare either to or from Texas, and the prostitutes are required to pay for the other leg of the trip.”
According to the document, North Texas was the center of the operation: The women would be flown in and spend three to four weeks rotating brothels here and then return to their homes in other states. No warrants had been served in any other states related to this multi-agency investigation, said Diego Rodriguez, the FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s Dallas division.
The second count of the indictment says the criminal organization bought condoms in bulk that were manufactured in Stratford, Conn. and had them shipped across state lines to be used in criminal acts, which breaks federal law.
Dallas police, working with state and federal authorities, on Monday arrested four women at two of the parlors and one residence in Far North Dallas and Collin County.
Chinli Yeh, 57, was arrested at a nondescript suburban home at 13309 Kit Lane, located just east of Coit near the Dallas/Richardson border. Pang Hsiang Lin, 51, and Yu Tao Chen, 52, were arrested at the J.J. Asian Health Center located at 5528 Alpha Road. Yuanli Zhang, 45, was taken into custody at the Rosemeade Asian Spa, located at 3920 Rosemeade Parkway.
None of those arrested Monday are named in the federal indictment.
Rodriguez said warrants were also served in Plano and Hurst. The day’s police work resulted in the closure of 10 of the businesses, he said.
In Plano, Yafen Wang, 47, and LeQuin Huang, 40, were arrested and charged with prostitution. Yubing Li, 50, Hui Li, 44, Jing Liu, 53, and Jihong Liu, 41, were arrested and charged with massage therapy license violations.
Unlike the Dallas and Collin County warrants, those served in Tarrant remain sealed Wednesday afternoon.
“We’ve dealt a crippling blow to this operation,” Rodriguez said.
U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents are helping investigate, however Bales said they’ve found no evidence of human trafficking or enslavement. All of the women involved are of Asian descent, he said, and all appear to be in the country legally. He said ICE agents are also investigating the validity of the women’s visas.
The indictment alleges the prostitution ring began in 2010. While Bales declined to attach a specific amount to its revenue, he did say he expected it to exceed $1 million.
“It’s a lot of money,” he said. “A lot of money.”
In March 2011, police documents say Ha called Dallas Det. Paul Park at his desk to set up a meeting. He offered to pay thousands of dollars each month in return for police turning a blind eye to the prostitution ring. Park agreed and began accepting cash –– and then logging it and getting additional evidence to aid the case, police documents say. Park also convinced Ha to become comfortable bribing Plano Det. Brant Hickman, who he’s also accused of giving money to.
In September of that year, Ha agreed to pay $10,000 a month if Park helped “identify new brothel locations, direct law enforcement actions against competitors, protect Ha’s existing brothels and remove any charges filed against Ha’s prostitutes.”
The investigation, says the indictment, netted $305,000 solely from bribes. Bales said all of that money has been entered into evidence.
On Feb. 22, co-conspirator Yu Lin Chang was arrested for hiring an unlicensed massage therapist at the Asian Therapy Spa in the 2900 block of W. 15th St. in Plano. The indictment alleges that Ha gave Det. Hickman $2,000 to keep the location open and help Chang avoid being convicted.
Ha and his co-conspirators are accused of renting residences to house the prostitutes in St. Louis, Miss.; Oklahoma City; Dallas and The Colony. The women were brought to Texas from California, Nevada, Georgia and other unnamed locations. Many of the individuals indicted allegedly shuttled the women to and from hotels and airports to where they provided sex acts for money.
As a result of the investigation, agents seized a 2002 Lexus IS300; a 2002 Honda Accord; a 2004 Toyota Tacoma; a 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer; a 2012 Honda Accord; a 2009 BMW; a 2005 Lexus RX330; a 2013 Mercedes GLK; and a 2005 Honda Civic EX. Also seized was a property at 3617 Cromwell Street in Plano and the $305,000 that the detectives were bribed with.
Eight of the 11 named in the federal indictment have been arrested. Bales said investigators have "good leads on the whereabouts" of the remaining three.
Ha, Chang, Lau, Yu Qian, Li Meng Shank and Tin Min Lo are due for a detention hearing on Friday at 1:30 p.m. before Magistrate Judge Amos L. Mazzant in federal court in Sherman. Also indicted are Xia Xu, Prapatson Verhotz, Tin Min Lo, Michael Jones and Jia-Her Hwang.
The counts include conspiracy to use interstate facility to facilitate unlawful action; use of interstate facility to facilitate unlawful action; and bribery. The first two counts are punishable by no more than five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The third, bribery, comes with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.