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Metropolitan Digest / LOS ANGELES COUNTY NEWS IN BRIEF

Trial Ordered for Pair in Sex 'Slave Trade' Case

November 05, 1994|DENISE HAMILTON

Authorities who raided a suspected house of prostitution in a Rosemead neighborhood said they now believe it was part of a larger organized crime operation that stretched from Asia to the western United States.

Saying there is ample evidence of a "slave trade, 1990s-style," an El Monte Municipal Court judge ordered two Rosemead residents to stand trial on charges of pimping and pandering in connection with four young Thai women who were smuggled into the United States to work as prostitutes.

Judge Peter J. Meeka on Thursday ordered Tai Pham, 23, a Vietnamese national, and Suphonphan (Jackie) Woods, 29, a Thai national, held on $500,000 bail. Federal or state charges may also be pending, a sheriff's spokesman said.

Attorneys representing Woods and Pham said their clients were hired to run errands at the house and collect money but did not benefit personally from the prostitution.

The four Thai women who testified at the preliminary hearing in Rio Hondo Municipal Courthouse have been placed under a federal witness protection plan, authorities said.

The women, who range in age from 22 to 26, testified that the defendants confiscated their passports, threatened them with bodily harm and held them against their will in the house, where they were forced to have sex with up to eight men a day.

The customers--who were mostly Vietnamese men--paid $100 to the defendants for each sex act and sometimes gave the women additional cash, the women testified.

Woods initially paid a middleman in Thailand between $13,000 and $15,000 per person to procure up to eight women and supply them with passports, visas and airline tickets from Bangkok to Los Angeles, according to the testimony of a special agent from the U.S. Customs Service.

Two women testified that they had worked as prostitutes in Thailand. They were approached by a man who told them they would make up to $1,200 per month in the United States.

The other two women testified that they had never worked as prostitutes and had come to the United States expecting jobs as cocktail waitresses.

Once arriving in Los Angeles, the women testified that they were driven to the Rosemead house and told they would have to have sex with 350 men to pay off a $35,000 travel debt they had incurred.

"They told me to take a shower, then Jackie told me to go upstairs with a customer and get to work," testified Phanthila Savadiluck, 26, who told investigators she had been promised a job in a cocktail lounge and told she could work as a prostitute on the side if she wanted to make extra money.

"Jackie told me she already bought me, I'd have to work for her and she wouldn't let me go anywhere until I paid all the debt," Savadiluck testified.

The trial has been set for Nov. 17 in Pasadena Superior Court.

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