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Leader of Alleged Korean Prostitution Ring Sought

July 27, 2002|HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Police are hunting the leader of a ring that allegedly lured young women from South Korea to Los Angeles, where they were forced to work as prostitutes.

Investigators say Joo Jong-Chang, 39, of Rowland Heights operated a Koreatown gang that brought women illegally through Mexico and Canada and then forced them to have sex with about a dozen customers a day.

Two suspected ring members, Lee Sun-Hwa, 30, and Kenith Park, 37, were arrested July 5 and face charges of pimping, pandering and kidnap for ransom.

Police described Park as the ring's "strongman," ferrying the women to and from customers and threatening them, sometimes with a knife.

The women were told "they could come to the United States and make a lot of money," said LAPD Deputy Chief David Kalish.

"Once here, they were told that they had to be prostitutes in order to pay off their debts," Kalish said.

Police know of four women who say they were caught up in the scheme.

Police said that, once here, the women's money was taken away, and the ring charged them for room and board and for condoms. Two of them had been working as prostitutes since early January, the other two since April.

Kalish said one woman got pregnant, was forced to have an abortion, and then ordered to work the next day.

"Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for immigrant women to be exploited, to be brought into the country under false pretenses and forced into becoming indentured servants," Kalish said.

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