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Guilty pleas entered in multi-state prostitution and money laundering scheme

SEATTLE - The owners and operators of several massage parlors in two states pleaded guilty over the past two weeks to federal felony charges in the Western District of Washington, stemming from an investigation into prostitution and money laundering by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Tham Nguyen, 49, of Lodi, Calif., pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to engage in money laundering. Carl Hencmann, 66, also of Lodi, pleaded guilty September 22 to one count of conspiracy to transport individuals in furtherance of prostitution. Suong Tran, 51, of Burien, Wash., pleaded guilty Sept. 16 to one count of misprision of a felony.

According to the plea agreement, Nguyen and Hencmann admitted that beginning in 2007 and continuing until April 21, 2010, they operated three brothels in King County, Wash., under the guise of providing sauna and massage services. Each of the businesses employed Asian females who traveled from out of state to work at the brothels and provide sex services to customers for a fee, generating substantial profits for the owners.

In his plea agreement, Tran admitted that he was employed by these businesses and assisted in the day-to-day operations. Despite the fact that he knew women were traveling from out of state to provide sex for a fee, he failed to report this crime to law enforcement.

In addition, Hencmann admits that on Aug. 23, 2008, a female who was licensed to work legally as a prostitute at a legal brothel he owned in Nevada traveled from Las Vegas to Seattle for the purpose of working as a prostitute at one of his businesses here. Her plane ticket was purchased using a credit/debit card that belonged to an unnamed co-conspirator in the case.

"This case illustrates HSI's commitment to investigating those individuals who seek to profit from violating the law and dignity of another human being," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Seattle. "ICE will continue to combat this form of modern day slavery."

On April 22, HSI agents and other law enforcement authorities executed federal search warrants at the following businesses, which were owned or operated by the defendants:

  • Bamboo Sauna - 14021 Ambaum Blvd. S.W., Burien
  • Fantasy Health Spa - 11516 124th Avenue N.E., Kirkland, Wash.
  • Sauna Relax Station - 1537B Auburn Way North, Auburn, Wash.
  • AAH Spa - 20 North Cherokee Lane, Lodi
  • Valley Spa - 321 North California Street, Lodi
  • Healthy Living Nails and Spa - 3715 47th Avenue, Sacramento, Calif.
  • #1 Geisha - 357 Douglas Street in Elko, Nev.

Nguyen and Tran were taken into custody the day the warrants were served. Hencmann turned himself into authorities in Sacramento the following day.

Conspiracy to engage in money laundering carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000 or twice the laundered funds. Conspiracy to transport individuals in furtherance of prostitution carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000. Misprision of a felony carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000.

Tran is scheduled to be sentenced on December 10; Hencmann is scheduled to be sentenced December 17; and Nguyen is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 7, 2011. HSI was joined in this investigation by sheriff's departments in King County, Wash., and Sacramento County, Calif.; as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the police departments in Seattle, Auburn, Burien, Kirkland, Lodi, and Elko.