The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced the arrest of three individuals it alleges ran a prostitution ring catering to a range of distinguished clients, including elected officials, military officers, and government contractors with security clearances.
The trio, charged with “conspiracy to coerce and entice to travel to engage in illegal sexual activity,” are Han Lee, 41, and Junmyung Lee, 30, who both reside in the suburbs of Boston; and James Lee, 68, of Torrance, California. An affidavit from a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security describes a sophisticated organization in which the three allegedly maintained brothels in high-end apartments in greater Boston and eastern Virginia since at least July 2020, enticing primarily Asian women to perform commercial sex acts in these rental units.
The defendants are alleged to have operated this interstate network through front websites that required potential clients to fill out surveys that asked for “their names, email address, phone number, employer, and reference if they have one,” the affidavit states. They also allegedly had to supply driver’s license photos and credit card information, with some paying monthly fees for access to the service.
But the fact that the Justice Department devoted significant resources to a multiyear investigation that isn’t focused on involuntary sex work, says Mitchell Epner, a former federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of New Jersey, suggests there is another dimension to the case. “There’s something going on here that’s more than sex,” he tells Rolling Stone. “It’s very clear from the locations — Fairfax [and] Tysons Corner in Virginia are very close not only to [Washington] D.C. but to the Pentagon.” Epner says he “would not at all be surprised” if the alleged brother operators were “servicing people who were very prominent in either business or government and then turning around and extorting them.”
The affidavit notes that through surveillance, interviews, and other methods, federal agents were able to identify multiple customers of the alleged brothels, spanning “a wide array of different professional disciplines,” including not just politicians and military or government personnel but tech and pharmaceutical executives, professors, lawyers, doctors, and scientists. According to the DHS agent who authored the affidavit, there are “potentially hundreds” of customers yet to be identified, and “our investigation into their involvement in prostitution is active and ongoing.” Joshua Levy, acting U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, also emphasized in a Wednesday press conference in Boston that the investigation was far from over.
It’s unclear as yet what the professional or political connections of the alleged customers of the prostitution ring could mean for the case going forward, or whether the Justice Department could have taken an interest due to matters of national security or corruption. Epner, though, thinks these could be reasons the Feds moved to prosecute. The arrests, he says, might even be part of a plan “to get people who are just ordinary rich guys to come forward and agree to cooperate in order to help them make their case against the people who are the high-priority targets,” such as “people who have either been compromised and done things that they shouldn’t have done, giving away trade secrets, giving away who knows what, but in some way breaching a duty to keep things secret.” It could be governmental or business-related, he says.
Epner recalls that the last time he saw “this sort of very detailed prosecution, federally, of what appears to be an adult, consensual prostitution ring,” it was centered on Paul Bergrin, a former federal prosecutor who infamously became a defense attorney and then a New Jersey crime lord who took over a brothel. Eventually, he was “convicted of conspiracy to commit first degree murder in helping his clients murder a witness in a federal narcotics investigation,” Epner explains.
While this new bust may not be leading toward revelations of similar criminality, Epner says it’s a precedent that hints at the scope of what the Justice Department may currently be unraveling in Massachusetts and Virginia. In any case, Levy was certain to list the careers of the brothels’ alleged customers during Wednesday’s press conference, hinting that this affluent group would have a part to play as the federal probe continues. “They are the men who fuel this commercial sex ring,” he said.