Crime

Woman who imprisoned sex slaves gets prison herself

JJ Spa and Massage was closed by court order in 2015 because of prostitution and sex slavery. It operated in St. Martin and led to the conviction of its operations manager in a conspiracy to launder money.
JJ Spa and Massage was closed by court order in 2015 because of prostitution and sex slavery. It operated in St. Martin and led to the conviction of its operations manager in a conspiracy to launder money. jcfitzghugh@sunherald

Laundering money to cover up prostitution and sex slaves at a St. Martin spa has netted its operations manager a 35-month prison term, a money judgment of $100,174 and a $5,000 fine.

Yeon Sook “Jackie” Hwang, 42, of Biloxi, was sentenced Thursday for her role in a human-trafficking operation that used JJ Spa and Massage Parlor as a front for sex slaves. She was facing up to 20 years in prison.

A raid of the business in fall 2015 revealed Korean women had been forced into sex labor. The women lived there and were not allowed to leave, according to court testimony.

Judge Sul Ozerden ordered the money judgment seized from Hwang’s three bank accounts.

He sentenced her on a guilty plea to conspiracy to commit money laundering.

An FBI investigation, with help from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, led to her indictment on federal charges in October.

Sheriff Mike Ezell and District Attorney Tony Lawrence obtained a court order to raid the business the following month and shut it down.

The massage parlor was in a strip mall on North Washington Avenue.

Women enslaved for sex

Hwang brought women from other states to Jackson County for prostitution from August 2012 through December 2013, funded their trips and concealed money to avoid financial reporting requirements. The women were brought from California, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, New York and North Carolina.

Her plea also involved $34,160 in cash deposits to pay for bringing women to serve as sex slaves from June 2013 through November 2013.

Had the case gone to trial, the government planned to show the spa made more than $924,000 in cash during a year’s time, Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams has testified. The was deposited in small amounts at different banks to conceal unlawful activity, she said.

Taxi driver worked undercover

An FBI agent has testified a taxi driver worked undercover as a courier, delivering money and prostitutes. The driver received nearly $350,000 from Hwang in 2013 for taking prostitutes to and from airports, and made cash deposits of less than $10,000 each to avoid federal financial-reporting requirements.

The driver also received more than $63,000 in money orders, each in amounts under $2,500, which he deposited for Hwang.

After the raid, investigators said they seized client lists with phone numbers and sex-related items, including condoms. More than 9,000 condoms were purchased over a one-year period.

The investigation also revealed the unlawful activity was promoted on a website that listed types of sex acts, the costs and a cash-only payment method.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

Sun Herald staff writer Margaret Baker contributed to this report.

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