Two South Koreans charged with operating brothels in the US are set to appear for a hearing in federal court on Monday to determine whether they will be held behind bars pending an outcome in the case.
Clients of the high-end brothels, located in rented luxury apartments across the Boston area and around Washington, DC, included politicians, business executives, doctors, military members and government contractors with security clearances, according to investigators.
No client list has been made public.
Han Lee, 41, and Junmyung Lee, 30, who are scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate judge on Monday in Worchester, Massachusetts, allegedly ran the operations of multiple brothels around Boston, organizing travel for sex workers from California, Las Vegas and Virginia, maintaining a rotation of women for buyers to choose from.
The pair, according to investigators, would shuttle the women from airports to the apartment brothels, deliver groceries to the women so they wouldn’t leave the apartment, and arranged and scheduled buyers.
A detention hearing for a third individual who was arrested as part of the alleged scheme, James Lee, 68, has not yet been scheduled. He is accused of running part of the financial side of the brothels – renting out apartments in his or fake identities and operating numerous businesses to allegedly launder money through.
The three individuals have been charged with conspiring to persuade, induce, entice, and coerce one or more individuals to travel in interstate or foreign commerce to engage in prostitution.
Websites and ‘menus’
In the affidavit for the charges against the three individuals, Homeland Security Investigations agent Zachary Mitlitsky detailed how federal and local law enforcement uncovered the alleged brothel ring, through confidential sources, tracking cell phones, stakeouts, search warrants, interviews of at least 20 buyers, and, at one point, going through trash to uncover flight records.
According to the affidavit, the brothels were advertised through two websites, one for clients in the Boston area and another for those in Eastern Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital.
The website advertised “models” – pictured on the sites in underwear in provocative poses – for photographers to hire, the affidavit says. A disclaimer on the website advertising the brothels in Virginia says the site “does not promote a prostitution” and “Money exchanged is for companionship only and anything beyond that is a choice made between two consenting adults,” according to the affidavit.
First time buyers would allegedly have to go through a verification process, submitting their driver’s license or a headshot along with other information. Clients could also go through a separate website which, according to law enforcement officials, acted as a type of TSA-precheck approval system for prostitution rings and sex workers.
From there, clientele would be sent details of which women were available along with a “menu” of slightly coded options for different services, including a more intimate “Girlfriend Experience,” different types of sexual acts and varying lengths of time, each with their own price point, according to the affidavit.
Running the brothels
According to the affidavit, Han and Junmyung managed the brothels in the Boston area, including several in Cambridge, Massachusetts, primarily through cell phones connected to the numbers on the websites advertising the women available at the brothels.
Junmyung, investigators say, was born in Korea and is in the US on a student visa, which started in 2018. According to the affidavit, Junmyung started working for Hana in 2022 and was seen by investigators staking out brothel locations, escorting women to the apartments, bringing them groceries and driving the women from different apartments in the area.
The affidavit also says Junmyung leased at least one of the apartments under his name and would communicate with clients to set up appointments with the women as well as collect payments.
Han, who allegedly rented several of the brothel locations, would also handle communications and payments with clients and would furnish the apartments, according to the affidavit, including recently purchasing items for a new brothel location in Tysons, Virginia in October.
Through a confidential source, investigators learned that James worked with brothel operators to set up leases for apartments under his name as well as fake identities he had and would handle communications with apartment management if any issues arose, according to the affidavit.
The confidential source, working with investigators, contacted James to set up a brothel in Connecticut, the affidavit says. James told the source that his services cost $1000 a month, not including payment for the rent of leases he obtained for the brothels as well as any travel needed. He also mentioned during the call that he worked with a “Hana in Boston,” according to the affidavit.
To avoid detection from law enforcement, Han, Junmyung and James would allegedly use money orders – often in increments under a thousand dollars – to pay for costs associated with the brothels, including the apartments themselves, and deposit payments.
According to a detention memo by prosecutors, arguing that James was a flight risk and should remain detained pending an outcome in the case, James laundered money from the prostitution business through a vast network of fake businesses.
His business network, according to prosecutors, included more than 80 separate businesses.
The investigation continues
When announcing the arrest of Han, Junmyung and James, acting US attorney for Massachusetts Joshua Levy, told reporters that while the clients of these brothels have not yet been charged, the investigation was still in the early stages.
“The government alleges that there are potentially hundreds of individuals who took these services as commercial sex buyers,” Levy said Wednesday. “The buyers in this case are not charged today – not named in the affidavit. But I want to emphasize this is an investigation that’s just getting going. We’re in the very early stages.”