Prostitution Probe: 5 Asian Women Freed -- Seattle Police Say Operation Is Nationwide

Seattle police say that with the arrest of a man and the freeing of five women at a Northeast Seattle house, they have broken up part of a national prostitution operation trafficking in Asian women.

"We haven't seen this kind of thing in Seattle before," said Lt. Bill Moffatt of the Seattle Police Department's criminal-investigation section.

The women gave their ages as ranging from 20 to 27, but Moffatt said they appear younger. Police suspect they may be teenagers. They have no identification or other documents to verify their ages.

The women said they came from New York about two weeks ago. Police believe their arrival here may be part of a national organized-crime operation that moves girls and women from city to city throughout the U.S.

Earlier this month, five teenage girls were rescued from a prostitution operation in New York that used kidnapping and torture to force them into sexual slavery. Police here say they are not sure if the Seattle operation is related to the New York case.

The Seattle investigation began Friday, when detectives received tips from several sources about a prostitution operation in a house in the 12700 block of 35th Avenue Northeast.

Also, the vice unit had received an anonymous call about the same location, indicating eight Asian girls had been taken to the house to work as prostitutes.

Business cards advertising the sex scheme also had been printed in Chinese and were being circulated throughout the International District, said Moffatt.

A Chinese-speaking Seattle police officer called the telephone number printed on the business card and arranged a visit. Police also began watching the house and saw cars and people coming and going.

An undercover police officer was able to go inside and arrange to meet a prostitute. The officer talked to one of the girls and learned she believed that she was unable to leave.

Police obtained a search warrant for the property and served it early Saturday morning, finding five prostitutes, three customers and one male operator inside.

Officers speaking Thai and Chinese learned from the girls that they did not feel they were being made to stay because of force or fear.

Instead, police reported, the girls - from Laos and Thailand - had signed contracts requiring them to repay large amounts of money, in effect making them indentured servants.

"The girls fail to realize how badly they are being exploited," said Moffatt. "They seem to think they will be able to return to their homes rich . . . and seem naively content to be doing the acts of prostitution to become wealthy," he said.

The girls were taken to a women's shelter. The male operator was taken to the King County jail on suspicion of promoting prostitution.

Moffatt said it appears thousands of dollars were exchanged in the sex trade here.

In the New York case, customers were paying $120, an hour and the girls were told they had to entertain 500 customers before being set free.

The girls in the New York case were beaten, pistol-whipped and forced to have sex after being flown to the U.S. by Asian gang members.