GULFPORT -- A St. Martin spa saw at least 50 prostitutes pass through its doors in a five-month period, according to testimony in federal court Tuesday.
The spa manager, Yeon Sook "Jackie" Hwang, is accused of bringing women to Mississippi from other states to work as sex slaves.
U.S. District Magistrate Judge John C. Gargiulo ordered her held without bond Tuesday during a detention hearing in U.S. District Court. She will remained jailed until her Jan. 4 trial.
Hwang was heading up operations at JJ Spa and the 777 Spa, at the same location in a strip mall on North Washington Avenue, when she was taken into custody earlier this month. She is being held on federal charges of transporting women across state lines for prostitution, conspiracy to commit money laundering and four counts of money laundering.
FBI agent James Grunwald testified Tuesday a cab driver who acted as a courier for money and prostitutes for the spa was working undercover for the FBI. He said the driver would take women to and from the airport, and make cash deposits of less than $10,000 at various banks to avoid reporting requirements that would bring attention to larger deposits. Three accounts were in Hwang's name, Grunwald said, and deposits were made into other accounts or directly to the women working as prostitutes as well as others.
Between July and December 2013 at least 50 prostitutes were counted at the spa, Grunwald said, and over a two-year period at least $924,000 passed through Hwang's hands.
The businesses, authorities said, were nothing more than fronts for an elaborate prostitution ring.
Hwang's attorney, Jim Davis, said his client was simply a "receptionist" at the business and had never been arrested on a prostitution charge. Hwang pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office temporarily shut down the business Nov. 20. They served the temporary restraining order to Hwang, 41, and Hana Sanghee Bergeson, the registered agent of the business. A judge ruled Monday to keep the business closed until a Feb. 29 hearing to determine whether to shut it down permanently.
At the time of a Nov. 18 raid, authorities said four women, all believed to be sex slaves, lived there and were not allowed to leave. Food and water were brought in to them.
Authorities have also received statements from people at the business who said sex acts occurred there.
All of the women working as the alleged sex slaves were Korean nationals under age 30 who spoke little English. They were taken to an undisclosed location.
According to the federal charges against Hwang, the crimes occurred at the massage parlors beginning in August 2012.
Jackson County authorities and the FBI and other agencies had been investigating the business for more than a year because of complaints.
Authorities have recovered client lists, phone numbers and other "sex related items."
Jackson County investigators and FBI agents, including Grunwald, discovered posts about the spa on a website that noted the types of sex acts available to customers, the costs and the need for cash payments.
The customers, Grunwald said, wrote reviews about the sex they received at the spa when it was 777 and JJ Spa. He said agents interviewed at least five clients.
Tuesday's hearing had been delayed because Hwang said she could not speak English and an interpreter was not available.
However, Grunwald said, the director of the Mississippi State Board of Massage Therapy told him Hwang had passed a 25-page test in English and spoke English very well. Customers also said she could speak English, he said.
The case remains under investigation, with state charges pending.
If convicted of all of the federal charges, Hwang is facing more than 80 years in prison and more than $2 million in fines.
The FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, the Attorney General's Office, Homeland Security Investigations, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office are heading up the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams is prosecuting the case.