Sex and gender at work, in bed, and on the street

Korean 'room salon' busted for harboring 'provocatively dressed' women

December 2, 2010 - 11:30 AM
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High Society's old haunt (Google images)

Managers of a Falls Church club have pleaded guilty to harboring "illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain." Furthermore, these "illegally aliens" were "provocatively dressed," the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia is reporting.

According to court documents, Sang Bun "Chung Madame" Surh, a 52-year-old Annandale resident, has admitted to employing undocumented workers in a "room salon" in Falls Church that did business as, alternately, “High Society,” “Tomato,” and “Tomato Garden." Surh and two salon managers say they co-conspired to use "apartments in Annandale, Va., to harbor the illegal aliens" and also "sometimes booked flights for the aliens." Beyond the evidence of conspiracy, the Attorney's Office seems especially concerned with the salon's employee uniform:

Since 2007, the Attorney's Office claims that the managers harbored at least 25 "female, Korean illegal aliens to serve as waitresses and hostesses of the room salon." The salon "contains several private rooms where customers, primarily Korean men, consumed liquor" as "provocatively dressed Korean women then serve the drinks to the customers and drink, flirt, sing, and dance with the customers."

Surh and managers parlayed the female companionship into inflated alcohol prices: "A bottle of liquor at High Society/Tomato typically costs $300 and customers were required to purchase at least a bottle," the Attorney's Office reports. Since 2007, High Society claims to have "grossed in excess of $4 million" with the business plan.

Surh and the two managers, 41-year-old Young Mi Kim and 55-year-old Hyeon Chul Kim, each "face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine" at a February sentencing. (As part of the deal, Young Mi Kim pleaded guilty to an additional charge of "conspiracy to commit marriage fraud based on her own fraudulent marriage to a United States citizen").

The Attorney's Office release praised law enforcement officials for holding the employers accountable for "profiting from the employment and harboring of illegal aliens." I'm guessing that the degrading nature of the work only helped to bolster the government's case against High Society; the future of the salon's hostesses, however, has been omitted from the discussion.

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  1. amellifera amellifera

    Amy Sage

    Dec 02, 2010 - 03:38:30 PM

    The details of this organization seem to fit with human trafficking. Has that been ruled out? Is anyone even asking that question? They admitted to booking flights for them, so I kind of wonder how these "provocatively dressed Korean women" got here in the first place. Maybe they ruled it out from interviews with the "illegal aliens," but that isn't a phrase you use for victims of sex-trafficking. Or am I the only one who leaped to this (horrific) conclusion?

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    • Amanda Hess Amanda Hess

      Amanda Hess

      Dec 03, 2010 - 12:32:35 PM

      I'm currently trying to look into this. Whenever the "provocatively dressed" flag is waved, my assumption is that this establishment was likely also investigated as a brothel. Maybe law enforcement was unable to find any evidence of that (and maybe it wasn't even there). Human trafficking doesn't just relate to sex work, of course, so I'm trying to figure out how trafficking laws might relate to this case.

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    • TJ TJ

      TJ T

      Dec 03, 2010 - 07:29:27 AM

      As a matter of fact, Amy, that was the first thing that I thought when I started reading this piece.  I'm surprised that there was no mention of the women engaging in more than just "flirting" with the customers.  And yes, giving them the title of "illegal aliens" (I hate that title anyway... it sounds like the people are from another planet) gives the impression that they weren't victims, and that's what it sounds like to me.

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