South Korean Woman Sold as California Sex Slave Faced Second Setback

Sex Slave (Illustration by Michael Ziobrowski / OC Weekly)

Raised by grandparents without ever knowing her mother or father, who divorced and fled when she was 1 year old, a woman we’ll call Ji craved a better life as she left South Korea for the United States. A broker she trusted told her she could have a safe voyage via Japan and Mexico for a $24,000 payment. Ji agreed. But that man had quietly sold the petite, 28-year-old orphan to his pals in a Southern California sex-trafficking ring.

When Ji arrived in the Los Angeles area in late 2004, she discovered the truth. Leaders of the ring—men named Peter, Ryan, Andy, Jun and Steve, according to law-enforcement files—demanded she work 24 hours a day, seven days a week as a prostitute until they determined she’d paid off the debt from her trip. Considered property, they branded her body as a Texas cowboy would a steer. She was required to meet a mandatory, daily, 10-man minimum. They also fed her mind-altering drugs to weaken her resistance as well as her ability to escape the building that housed her and other immigrants who’d fallen into the same trap.

The ringleaders made sure their captives understood fleeing would be futile, if not fatal. Ji’s one attempt to leave ended with a severe beating, after which she required 40 stitches in her head. She was slapped with a $2,000 enhancement to her debt and denied food for two days.

Then, one night, she saw a desperate Chinese woman try to escape the brothel. The angry pimps caught her and cracked her skull with rock blows. To reinforce their power, they tossed the woman’s corpse in a box and ordered Ji and other women to dig a grave.

For almost four years, Ji endured a painful existence off the grid. She was often placed in massage-parlor rooms hidden from potential prying cop eyes. Men in Dallas and San Francisco separately bought her as their personal sex slave, according to Ji.

In 2008, a customer became overcome with guilt and helped her escape out a back door and into an awaiting vehicle. She met other good Samaritans who offered help. However, scars from her experiences were deep. A doctor diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hallucinations and depression clouded her mind. She also suffered from continual nightmares that the prostitution ringleaders—who’d let her know they were hunting her—would catch, torture and send her back into forced labor. At one point, a suicidal Ji landed in an Orange County medical facility, where treatment improved her condition.

But by 2014, this immigrant still faced a major problem: She hadn’t entered the U.S. legally. Actually, she faced a second obstacle, this one perhaps of her own making. To earn a living in LA, she had opened an internet “shopping mall” business that sold small amounts of illegal narcotics by international mail to South Koreans, according to prosecutors in Seoul.

These law-enforcement officials allege their months-long investigation into drug-carrying mail shipments of toys arriving at Gimpo and Incheon airports eventually identified Ji, whose real name is unclear given her use of numerous aliases, as the source. In exchange for Korean currency, she shipped cocaine, methamphetamine and Ecstasy pills, police claim. Records show her customers included a housewife in the midst of an affair and a father with a secret addiction he hid by injecting meth inside his car while he was away from his family.

“There is clear and sufficient evidence to indict Ji,” Korean prosecutors announced; if they were successful in winning a conviction, she would face a minimum of five years in prison per count. But there was a hitch: Korean law prevented them from indicting a suspect who is on the run. In June 2016, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency arrested her for violating immigration laws, and the extradition process began.

Ji, who has denied guilt in the narcotics case, didn’t want to return to Korea. Her grandparents had died, and she knew no one else there. She also feared she would be abandoned in one of that nation’s notoriously neglected mental hospitals for the remainder of her life. With opposition from Korean prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Ji sought asylum here.

Last year, her case landed with U.S. Immigration Judge Ian R. Simons, a former federal and local prosecutor. DOJ officials suspected Ji may have fabricated her story and her illnesses, but Simons disagreed after a hearing, saying she’d been treated for years by her abusers as “a commodity” rather than a human being.

“The court found her testimony to be forthcoming, consistent and believable,” the judge stated in his October ruling. “The court noted no overt effort on her part to embellish her case or exaggerate her symptoms. In fact, some of the things she said in court were to her detriment.”

Simons stated the Korean criminal case wasn’t a deal breaker. “The court also understands that this is an individual who is mentally fragile,” he stated. “She has a history of being taken advantage of. There is at least some belief that she may have been unwittingly wrapped up in a situation that she was not fully able to comprehend. . . . The court finds that this [criminal allegation] is not an egregious factor such that asylum should be denied.”

But this year, DOJ officials asked a different judge, Steve Kim, to comply with South Korea’s extradition request. They opined that Kim should not entertain any objections from Ji or “investigate the fairness of the requesting country’s justice system.” Only U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo can block extradition based on humanitarian concerns, they added.

In his March ruling, Kim—a magistrate judge based in LA—agreed, ordering Ji handed over to South Korea prosecutors.

CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.

15 Replies to “South Korean Woman Sold as California Sex Slave Faced Second Setback”

  1. And so a wall that would make ones think it’s impossible to get into the states as easy as it is would not consider to do so and spend thousands of dollars selling themselves into unknown slavery.
    Even uneducated people in far away lands think if i can just get to Mexico, I’ll be able to get in the U.S. The fact is they just show these people pictures of others flooding across the border ILLEGALLY and so the criminal mind in other countries take advantage of their own people and sale them into slavery. And in a convoluted way liberals will twist this into being trumps fault or at least the fault of the white American male.
    If liberals think that legalizing drugs would stop the drug trade and lower drug crimes. Why doesn’t that same demented mind think if we make it very difficult and strengthen our laws against illegally coming into our country and punish those that do. Crime against the naive like this poor girl who was subjected to heinous things would also be reduced as well?
    But they also fail to realize laws are only for the law abiding. You can make laws banning guns, But then that only leaves the criminals with guns and a helpless society. There are not enough cops to protect every citizen. Crime statistics prove that now and some of our citizens are able to protect themselves.
    Commonsense is lacking on the left.

    1. … Or you could criminalize businesses that hire illegals. I never hear any supporters of the wall suggest this much less protest ones that hire illegals (your neighbors).

    2. Common sense is not “lacking on the left.” Judging from your comments, i believe what’s “missing” is a heart and compassion in your body and soul.
      Thank God, the entire world is not made up of people like you! Kindness still trumps your viewpoint of “Me, Me, Me!

    3. Citizens don’t need ak47s. I agree we need to have guns for protection. The laws are to stop sales of military issue. Please do more research.

    4. Perched upon a perceived safety of economic superiority, the fell diatribe of anti-immigration wrath rains down on the unfortunate, the needy, the “useless” of the capitalist union of greed.
      It seems nothing is beyond contempt of the anti-immigration sect.
      One question must be answered of you:
      What is your expectation as a doctrinaire of the near-Fascist American criminality, seemingly preferring death and suffering of another, for a position of perceived safety in the dying economic status-quo of American hatred and violence?
      Have you no idea, no image of the culpability upon your reign of terror on the needy?
      The America embodied by this clueless, craven, contemptuous cohort of criminal leadership is a poison to global humanity, human decency, and a freedom promised to all Americans and potential Americans to live and breathe free of hatred and despotism.
      It is an entirely Un-American and unrecognizable exhibition except for the deep darkness of historic American conflicts upon humanity.
      Slavery, wars for profit, the ugly American and Monroe Doctrine using gunboat diplomacy for regime change are again crumbling so that this nation, and especially our world, will prosper without an unnecessary inhumanity exhibited of a class of entitled thieves of international resources, human lives, and a true American future of a coexistence based in human needs and human rights.
      The kind of hatred demonstrated by the anti-immigration faction is again the reason to rise to the needs of humanity.
      Ignorance caused of hate will no longer hold an upper hand.
      Can you imagine yourself as a victim of the world you have built?
      If not, place yourself in the footpath of Ji.
      The rhetoric of your passion is the cause of such crimes, for immigration must be a right, not a criminal act in every aspect of the attempt.

    5. White American male. Uh huh. Funny how you yourself twist it into it somehow being “liberals” fault.
      Just another mindless Trump follower.

  2. This is a well-researched story and a heartbreaking one. But it’s unfortunate that OC Weekly — a publication that provides valuable reporting about Orange County — advertises the exact type of massage parlors that the story describes as being “hidden from potential prying cop eyes.” The ads feature scantily-clad Asian women as a wink and nod to what they might really be selling. These are the exact types of parlors where someone like Ji might have been trafficked in the past, and it’s disturbing that OC Weekly continues to fund itself by promoting these businesses, even as it reports on the abuses that can occur there.

  3. So…your point? She’s a drug dealer who deserves to be sent back to Korea to face the charges. She is broken, so return her! You fucking liberals are too much!

  4. Amazing the “followers” of BOTH political sheep, think everything is solved by picking a “team.” This was a terrible “choice” to gain support to stop trafficking because this girl also is caught selling drugs (doesn’t help stop the trafficking to highlight her story; terrible choice REGARDLESS of the likelyhood this girl needs help.) Now all the blinded arguing re “wall” etc where all Americans are hypnotized to believe there are only TWO types of people and thus u “must” choose who u are – and who u must hate.

    This has been the tool to empower the few at the top of EITHER side and CRIPPLE the people in EVERY fallen govt for thousands of years. (Someday you’ll all figure out MOST of those at the top/in power on BOTH sides would likely switch to WHATEVER they believe will keep them there. (Trump would be shouting TEAR DOWN that wall” or hell even “Eat you children” if a big enough mob would want that – and would vote for him.

    I’ve traveled the world, and there is BAD/corrupt Socialism (Venezuela) AND GOOD Socialism (Scandinavia where no gettos, free Heathcare & college AND yes plenty opportunity to go into business/get rich exists. You’re ALL being hypnotized by this FALSE assumption that you are “part” of TWO groups. If you dont realize youre part of ONE group that is being convinced youre all the SAME of either one or the other – for SIMPLE “good” arguments on HOW to solve the same problems you all seek answers to – and SHOULD be debating….you will fail and have NOTHING. Its real, and its happening. It always has.

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