Crime

Court hearing delayed for suspect in Jackson County human trafficking case

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 Officials announced on Friday Nov. 20, 2015 that state and federal human trafficking charges have been filed against the owners of J.J. Spa LLC in St. Martin and a civil charge of public nuisance was used to close the business down.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Officials announced on Friday Nov. 20, 2015 that state and federal human trafficking charges have been filed against the owners of J.J. Spa LLC in St. Martin and a civil charge of public nuisance was used to close the business down. SUN HERALD

GULFPORT -- A detention hearing for the manager of a St. Martin spa -- which was shut down amid allegations of human trafficking and prostitution -- speaks little English and needs an interpreter before federal authorities can move forward with her detention hearing. The hearing, scheduled for Monday, was moved to Dec. 4 to give officials time to find an interpreter for her.

Yeon Sook Hwang, also known as Jackie, has been indicted on one count each of human trafficking and conspiracy to commit money laundering and four counts of money laundering. She lives on Popp's Ferry Road in Biloxi, records show.

Hwang, 41, headed up operations at JJ Spa on North Washington Avenue. The registered agent was identified as Hana Sanghee Bergeson.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney Tony Lawrence shut down the business on Friday because of what Lawrence described as "organized criminal activity, indentured servitude and enslavement of people" allegedly going on at the business. They served the temporary restraining order to shut the business down to both Hwang and Bergeson.

The business is in a strip mall on North Washington Avenue in the St. Martin community.

At the time of the law enforcement raid there Wednesday, four women, all believed to be sex slaves, were living at the spa. Food and water were brought in to them because they were not allowed to leave, authorities and neighbors confirmed.

Authorities then received statements from people at the business who said sex acts had occurred there.

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All of the women working as alleged sex slaves were Korean nationals under the age of 30 who spoke very little English. They have been removed from the business and moved to an undisclosed location.

According to the federal charges, Hwang, with the aid of others, brought the women to Mississippi to work as sex slaves. They were brought in from California, Texas, Georgia, New York, Colorado, North Carolina and Texas.

According to federal court records, the crimes occurred at the massage parlor beginning in August 2012.

Jackson County and other agencies had been investigating activities at the business for more than a year because of repeated complaints.

In addition to the other crimes, authorities said the spa offered massages without a state license.

As part of the investigation, authorities have recovered various items from the business, including client lists, phone numbers and other "sex related items."

Jackson County sheriff's investigators also have found posts about the spa on a website that noted the sex acts available for customers, the costs and the need for cash payments.

Authorities conducted surveillance on the spa prior to last week's raid. In an affidavit filed by one of the Jackson County investigators, he said individuals using the website posted about receiving oral and vaginal sex at the business from two women named Hanna and Heaven.

During surveillance of the business, investigators saw different men arrive and leave the business. In each case, authorities said, the men went in through ha front door and left about an hour later, a time consistent with what the website promoted as the time allowed for each sex act performed.

The case remains under investigation.

Lawrence said state charges are pending.

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 investigated the case. That investigation is ongoing.

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