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Feds Say Dirt Track Has Dirty Little Secret

A California `motocross mom' is accused of using her East Texas facility to hide brothel proceeds.

July 22, 2006|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

PALESTINE, Texas — When Kimberly Mao paid a local doctor last summer a little more than a million dollars for a sprawling ranch in horse country here, folks thought she was just another well-to-do city dweller seeking a rural retreat in the piney woods of East Texas.

But weeks after the 47-year-old Hacienda Heights woman purchased the property, bulldozers began cutting a winding course of bumps and berms into the soil, turning the tranquil farm into a raceway for the fast-growing sport of motocross.

Neighbors were outraged. "People move to the country for peace and quiet, not to live next to a motorcycle track," said resident and Dallas Police Det. Warren Martin. Local authorities, however, said there was nothing they could do.

Then things really got racy.

On April 18, Mao was arrested in Madisonville, Texas, for allegedly heading a multimillion-dollar prostitution and money laundering conspiracy. In a 40-count federal indictment, the government said she hid profits from her brothels in Inglewood, South Gate, Baldwin Park and Dallas in the East Texas property and four other tracks she owned in California, Texas and Florida, collectively named MX Oasis.

She has pleaded not guilty and is free on bail.

Federal prosecutors say Mao's case reveals the vast reach of global organized crime -- from prostitutes' home countries in Asia and Latin America to brothels in Southern California and finally to farm communities in rural Texas.

But Roger Jon Diamond, the Santa Monica lawyer representing Mao, said the government is trying to bootstrap a questionable low-level prostitution case into a major prosecution to feed "the Bush administration pandering to its right wing, fundamentalist, evangelical base."

"To use an old expression, they have made a federal case out of this," he said.

He also said Mao didn't know anything about any prostitution her tenants may have conducted.

Federal action against prostitution involving foreign women "trafficked" by brothel owners has indeed been a Bush administration priority. Justice Department officials say they have tripled the number of sex trafficking prosecutions since 2001.

In an operation in San Francisco and Los Angeles a year ago, hundreds of federal agents and local police swarmed massage parlors, chiropractic offices and apartments suspected of being brothels, arresting 45 people and detaining 150 suspected prostitutes.

No trafficking charges resulted, though two alleged San Francisco brothel owners pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of alien harboring.

The raids led to Mao's indictment, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Carmen Luege. The case has not produced trafficking charges either.

Ironically, what Diamond calls the "fundamentalist, evangelical base" could aptly describe Mao. Deeply religious, according to those who know her, she sends her teenage daughter to an evangelical Christian private school in the San Gabriel Valley.

Federal tax records show that Mao has contributed heavily to Christian groups. In 2004 alone, her charitable foundation donated more than $170,000, including $40,000 to her Hacienda Heights church, Hosanna Presbyterian, and $95,000 to MXers for Jesus, a group that holds religious services at motocross races. Neither officials from the church nor the MXers group could be reached for comment.

In the family-centered world of dirt bike racing, Mao was known for her devotion to her 16-year-old son's budding amateur career.

"She was a motocross mom," said Andrew Campo, a freelance journalist who met Mao on the racing circuit and is her spokesman.

Mao purchased a motor home to transport her son and his motorcycles to races across the country and arranged for home-schooling to free his schedule. Her racetracks were both a business venture and an investment in her son, Campo said.

Campo, who lived at the Palestine track with Mao and her family most of March, said his boss' days revolved around her son's grueling daily training, which began with bike prep at 7 a.m., followed by morning gym workouts and riding through much of the day. Mao prepared healthy fare for her son and other racers in training, Campo said, and ran errands so they wouldn't be interrupted.

She also prayed a lot, said Alan McDonald, the caretaker who maintains the track, which remains open on weekends. "She prayed for two hours straight," he said.

McDonald, who believes that Mao is innocent, called her "the best boss I've ever had." She offered to help pay his medical bills after his hospitalization for a heart condition, McDonald said.

Mao charged riders $15 a head to practice their moves on weekends. Eventually, she planned to develop a series of nationally sanctioned races, which would draw thousands of spectators to her tracks, Campo said, and build lodging at the tracks for the spectators.

Prosecutor Luege said these businesses "would not stand on their own. If you shut off the illegal income, the businesses would not survive."

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