Elected officials, government contractors with security clearances, and military officers were among hundreds of men who paid for sex at brothels in Cambridge, Watertown, and the Washington, D.C., suburbs, federal authorities alleged Wednesday in announcing the arrests of three people accused of operating the ring.
So far none of the customers or women suspected of being involved in the ring have been charged, but Acting US Attorney Joshua Levy said at a news conference that the investigation is continuing, with agents executing search warrants Wednesday on various locations.
“This commercial sex ring was built on secrecy and exclusivity, catering to a wealthy, well-connected clientele,” said Levy, who announced the arrests along with Michael J. Krol, special agent-in-charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New England, and Cambridge police Commissioner Christine Elow. “Business was booming until today.”
He declined to identify any of the high-profile clientele.
According to an affidavit filed in court by a Homeland Security agent, the network has operated brothels since at least July 2020 and its client list also included pharmaceutical executives, lawyers, professors, and doctors.
When pressed for the names of suspected customers, Levy said, “That’s certainly a significant part of what else we’re looking at.”
As for whether any additional charges will be brought, he said, “It’s hard to tell the final score when you’re still in the first inning. . . . I wouldn’t draw any conclusions that we’re done.”
The affidavit says sex buyers’ names were omitted not to maintain anonymity, but “because our investigation into their involvement in prostitution is active and ongoing.”
Federal agents interviewed 20 men who bought sex as part of the years-long investigation, according to the affidavit.
Men seeking to purchase sex through the network were required to go through a lengthy process, involving background checks and references, according to the affidavit. To begin the process, customers would contact a site, which claimed to be advertising nude models for photography that did not involve “paid sexual activity.”
However, the affidavit alleges the site was “a front for escort services.” It required customers to submit a “verification form,” and provide a photo, email address, phone number, employer, and credit card information.
In some instances, clients were encouraged to use the websites, Preferred 411 and Ter ID, to verify their identities, according to Levy. He described Ter ID as a Yelp-style review system for sex workers and said Preferred 411 is “operated essentially like a TSA preclearance” through which customers can create monthly memberships. A membership costs $119 for the first six months and then $179 a year, according to the affidavit.
After customers were verified and given an appointment, they would receive a text message directing them to an apartment, the affidavit states. During the investigation, according to the affidavit, one customer told agents that he had been directed to a Cambridge apartment and received a text of a “menu” of available options, including “the women available, the sexual services available, and the hourly rate.”
A woman and two men have been charged in US District Court in Boston with operating an interstate prostitution network at luxury apartments in Cambridge and Watertown, as well as in Fairfax and Tysons outside D.C.
Han “Hana” Lee, 41, of Cambridge, is accused of being the leader. She is charged along with James Lee, 68, of Torrance, Calif., and Junmyung Lee, 30, of Dedham, of violating the Mann Act, a federal law that targets interstate prostitution rings.
At an initial appearance in federal court Wednesday, Han Lee and Junmyung Lee were ordered held pending a detention hearing early next week. The hearing was held remotely, with both giving brief answers through a Korean interpreter. James Lee, who remains in custody, will appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.
A lawyer for Han Lee declined to comment Wednesday, while attorneys for the two men could not be reached. None of the three defendants are related, authorities said.
The women trafficked were predominantly Asian and were moved across the country for commercial sex purposes, “exploiting them in the process,” Levy said.
He declined to comment on whether authorities would pursue additional charges in state or federal court.
A spokesperson for Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office, which covers Cambridge and Watertown, declined to comment on whether it was pursuing state charges against any of the men suspected of being customers of the ring.
The investigation, Levy said, began with a tip to federal authorities from local law enforcement, though he would not elaborate on whether that was from a force in Massachusetts.
Homeland Security agents arrested the trio on Wednesday when they served warrants at their residences as well as at four suspected brothels in Massachusetts. Three of those were at apartments in a building at 90 Fawcett St. in Cambridge near Alewife, and a fourth was at 66 Bond St. in Watertown in a building called Blvd & Bond at Arsenal Yards, according to the affidavit. Rents for the apartments were as high as $3,664 a month, according to investigators.
In Watertown, 66 Bond St. is a modern building in the Arsenal Yards complex, with a Marshall’s, Ulta Beauty, and T-Mobile stores in the busy retail area.
Val Bayley, 69, a retired nurse, has lived there for the last two years and was shocked to hear about the brothel operation.
”Wow! That’s actually really scary. When people come and go, and there’s no security, it’s not good,” Bayley said. "I’m surprised nothing has come through from management or anyone. I would have liked the heads-up. But yikes.”
Cambridge resident Daiven Patel, 26, was equally stunned to learn of the alleged brothel operating at 90 Fawcett St., a large building where he lives on the fourth floor.
“It’s probably in the same hallway as I am,” said Patel, who moved into the building in early September.
Patel said he never noticed anything strange or suspicious. Most of his neighbors appear to be young professionals and young families, many of whom are Asian, he said.
The affidavit says the brothels had previously been operated at other locations, including at apartments on New Street and Cambridgepark Drive in Cambridge.
Levy said the ring brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars, with hourly rates sometimes ranging from $350 to $600 for an appointment, depending on the length of the session and the acts involved.
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