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Monday, April 15, 2024

Former SDPD pleads guilty to operation of illicit massage businesses

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Image of Massage Parlor. The photo is not realted to the article.

A former San Diego Police Department vice detective and his co-defendants each pleaded guilty today in connection with their operation of five illicit massage businesses in California and Arizona that profited for years by exploiting women to engage in commercial sexual services under the guise of offering therapeutic massage services.

According to court documents, Peter Griffin, 78, who left the department in 2002, Kyung Sook Hernandez, 58, Yu Hong Tan, 56, and Yoo Jin Ott, 46, owned and operated Genie Oriental Spa, Felicita Spa, Blue Green Spa, Maple Spa and Massage W Spa, located in the greater San Diego area and in Tempe, Arizona, between 2013 and August 2022. The criminal scheme included incorporating their businesses with state agencies, managing the finances of the businesses, advertising commercial sexual services online, recruiting and employing women to perform commercial sexual services in the businesses and benefiting financially from the illegal enterprises. The defendants leased multiple commercial properties as storefronts, leased and bought residential properties to use as housing for employees, and secured credit card processing equipment to operate the illicit massage businesses.

Griffin previously worked as a detective with the Vice Operations Unit of the San Diego Police Department, a unit tasked with dismantling the very businesses he operated and promoted for personal profit. Throughout the course of the scheme, Griffin used the experience and skills he acquired through his work as a vice detective – and in at least one instance, his badge – to help the businesses evade law enforcement, thwart regulatory inspections, investigations, and any official action against the businesses, conceal evidence, and maintain a façade of legitimacy. On another occasion, Griffin told an employee that he was a former police officer and instructed her not to “open [her] mouth” about her employment at the illicit massage business. Griffin also used resources he had access to by virtue of his private investigator license to obtain information on customers and employees on behalf of the illicit massage businesses. During the scheme, the defendants encouraged and expected employees to perform commercial sexual services inside the businesses and relied on Griffin’s law enforcement background to help conceal the criminal conduct. When one employee initially refused to perform commercial sexual services, one of the defendants instructed her to “leave [her] morals in China” in order to “make the customers happy.”

“The defendant – a former vice detective who once took an oath to uphold our laws – knew more than most that illicit massage businesses cruelly profit by exploiting women for commercial sex,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are committed to prosecuting the proprietors of these illegal businesses, and to shining a light on those places where sexual exploitation and trafficking persist.”

“Peter Griffin misused the expertise acquired during his time as a vice detective and abused the respect that came with his badge – all to ensure that his ‘massage parlors’ operated under the radar for his personal financial gain,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The guilty pleas of Griffin and his co-defendants underscore the Justice Department’s commitment to holding accountable those who profit from crime, particularly crimes that involve the exploitation of vulnerable populations and the abuse of trust that communities place in law enforcement. This plea would not have been possible without the innovative and collaborative efforts of our partners in federal and local law enforcement, the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.”

“This criminal scheme involved illicit businesses that exploited a vulnerable population,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California. “We are committed to prosecuting the offenses that impact not only the employees of these illicit businesses, but the safety of the communities in which they operate.”

“Griffin betrayed the pledge he took to uphold our laws and to protect the members of our community through his egregious misuse of power and knowledge,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge John Kim of the FBI San Diego Field Office. “We appreciate the collaboration of our federal, state, and local partners to ensure that justice is served to Griffin and his co-conspirators. There is no place in our community for those who negligently prioritize money over people.”

Griffin pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Interstate Travel in Aid of Racketeering Act (ITAR) by using facilities in interstate commerce to promote and facilitate businesses involving prostitution, and to wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering, for which he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Hernandez, Tan and Ott, who managed the different illicit massage businesses in Griffin’s network, each pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony and face maximum penalties of three years in prison.

Assistant Attorney General Clarke, Assistant Attorney General Polite, U.S. Attorney Grossman and Special Agent in Charge Plantz made the announcement.

The investigation was led by Homeland Security Investigations, IRS Criminal Investigation, and the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force, a regional, multi-agency effort led by the California Department of Justice dedicated to supporting survivors and holding traffickers accountable. The task force is comprised of numerous federal, state and local agencies, as well as the Southwest Border High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. The investigation was also supported by the FBI, the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego Sheriff’s Office, the Escondido Police Department, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office and the Tempe, Arizona, Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Streja for the Southern District of California, Trial Attorney Caylee Campbell of the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the Criminal Division and Trial Attorney Leah Branch of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit are prosecuting the case.

Anyone who has information about human trafficking should report that information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For more information about human trafficking, please visit www.humantraffickinghotline.org.