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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Houston business owners sentenced to prison for bribery and visa fraud

The couple purchased employment documents for women engaging in prostitution

HOUSTON- A Houston couple was sentenced to prison Monday for bribery, visa fraud and conspiring to import aliens for prostitution. The sentencings were announced by U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson and were the result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI and the Houston Police Department.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes sentenced Man Hui Cho, 55, to 12 months in prison; and sentenced his wife, Ki Sun Park, 54, to 18 months in prison. The couple was also ordered to forfeit more than $40,000 in bribe payments they made to law enforcement officials posing as corrupt federal agents.

Evidence presented in federal court demonstrated that in February 2006, Cho and Park approached a Houston Police Department (HPD) officer and asked if he would be willing to provide advance tips as to when ICE or the HPD vice division would conduct inspections of the two sexually-oriented businesses they owned and operated: La Premiere Femme and Sakura Spa. Cho and Park knew the women working at their businesses were engaging in prostitution. They also knew that some South Korean women who lived at the businesses were in the United States illegally and would be subject to deportation if discovered by law enforcement.

From March 2006 through August 2007, the couple met with an undercover FBI officer posing as a corrupt law enforcement official who was willing to provide the information the defendants sought. Monthly payments of $1,500 were made to the officer in return for assurance that such information would be provided.

In August 2006 the undercover officer told Park that law enforcement would be inspecting his businesses. Surveillance determined that as a result of the supposed tip, the defendants moved the illegal alien workers out of the businesses.

In November 2006, Park asked whether the undercover officer could assist in obtaining work permits for two South Korean workers whose passports had expired. Cho and Park later met with the FBI officer and an ICE special agent also posing as a corrupt federal official. Cho and Park ultimately paid the ICE agent $10,000 for two fraudulently procured employment authorization documents (EADs), which they believed would allow the women to work legally.

In addition to payments for the two EADs, the defendants ultimately made more than $30,000 in bribe payments to the FBI undercover officer during the course of the conspiracy.

This case was investigated by ICE, FBI and the Houston Police Department. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Varnado.