HAYWARD (KCBS / BCN) – A multi-agency operation has halted a large-scale and sophisticated ring of brothels at which immigrant Asian women were exploited, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced Friday.
A team of 125 law enforcement personnel assisted the Hayward Police Department in serving search and arrest warrants at 10 locations in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties on Thursday to break up the ring, O’Malley said.
KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:
She said the joint effort was both an enforcement action and a rescue operation and resulted in the arrest of eight people for their roles in operating the ring, as well as the recovery of 10 women who were provided with support services.
O’Malley said investigators believe that the people who operated the ring brought in dozens of women from Taiwan and China to the U.S., placed them on the prostitution circuit and cycled them through Bay Area brothels.
The enforcement action was the culmination of a year-long investigation that was conducted by the Hayward Police Department after a patrol officer looked into neighborhood complaints of suspected prostitution at a local residence, O’Malley said.
She said attentive officers eventually uncovered evidence supporting the complaints and an undercover investigation established that the home was a clandestine brothel and part of a larger ring of similar brothels.
Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock said a program in her office called HEAT Watch worked with Hayward police to help coordinate the multi-agency investigation. HEAT stands for Human Exploitation And Trafficking.
Bock said she is still reviewing “mountains of evidence” in the case and will decide next week on the specific charges she will file against the suspects.
The charges will be based on the suspects’ roles in operating the prostitution ring, Bock said. The charges will all be filed in Alameda County because the law provides for related cases to be consolidated in one county, she said.
Bock said the investigation is ongoing and “every stone is being turned over to find the truth and bring those responsible for this operation to justice.”
She said the other agencies who participated in the enforcement action were the police departments in Oakland, Berkeley, Sunnyvale, Newark, Danville, and San Jose, the sheriff’s offices in Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, the California Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Because federal agencies are part of the investigation, the suspects could face both federal and local charges, Bock said.
The agencies that are providing help to the women who were rescued from the prostitution ring are Asian Community Mental Health, Standing Against Global Exploitation, Bay Area Women Against Rape, Women Inc. and Community Violence Solutions.
Bock said this particular prostitution ring was very lucrative, exploiting a vulnerable population, with many of the women ending up in bondage for a financial or cultural debt.
“Women come to this country either because they are recruited, lured or tricked,” Bock said. “And I suppose some also come voluntarily.”
The investigation began when a Hayward police officer followed up on neighborhood complaints of prostitution in a home, which was revealed to be part of a chain of brothels.
“When you start to scratch the surface, you realize there’s a lot more scratching to do beneath the surface,” said Bock. “The investigation is still ongoing.”
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