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Jury Acquits Emigre in Prostitution Ring Case

Courts: Brothel worker says he did not know the women were illegal immigrants, the key issue in his trial.

July 03, 1999|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Cambodian emigre was acquitted Friday of federal charges that he harbored illegal immigrants who worked at a house of prostitution in Long Beach.

Vu Tieng-Phou, also acquitted of conspiracy, was given a bit of friendly advice by his lawyer after the verdict.

"You be careful," said defense attorney Steven M. Cron. "You don't go places where you don't know the people."

Prosecutors had portrayed Tieng-Phou as the manager of day-to-day operations at the Long Beach house, one of several allegedly run by a ring that smuggled girls and young women from Mexico to work as prostitutes.

Two admitted prostitutes testified during the trial that Tieng-Phou was in the house almost every day and collected money from their clients, then turned it over to the ring's mastermind, Sammy Cheung.

Cheung, who was set to go on trial with Tieng-Phou, pleaded guilty earlier this week to the same charges of conspiracy and harboring illegal immigrants. U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz set sentencing for Sept. 27.

In his closing argument to the jury, Cron pointed out that Tieng-Phou was being tried on the harboring and conspiracy charges, not for running a house of prostitution.

"Mr. Phou was working as a pimp and nothing more," Cron said.

He said the prosecution had failed to show that Tieng-Phou knew the women were illegal immigrants. The women spoke only Spanish and the defendant converses only in Cambodian.

One of the women who testified against him was a 20-year-old mother of three who said she was enticed into prostitution by promises that she would make $15 a customer, which equaled her weekly salary as a cleaning woman in Mexico.

A similar account was given by a 17-year-old Mexican girl who testified that she became a prostitute "so I can support my family better."

The two are being allowed to return to Mexico without being charged.

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