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U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Northern District of California

11th Floor, Federal Building(415) 436-7200
450 Golden Gate Avenue, Box 36055
San Francisco, California 94102FAX:(415) 436-7234

FEBRUARY 12, 2001

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California announced 12 people, including 8 Bay Area residents, were arrested this weekend on charges of conspiracy, alien smuggling, and enticing and transporting women for purposes of prostitution.

The arrests were the product of a two-year investigation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service that culminated in three sealed indictments that were returned by a San Francisco federal grand jury and two criminal complaints. The indictments were unsealed today. Altogether, 19 defendants are charged with transporting women both internationally and nationally for purposes of prostitution in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code Sections 371 (conspiracy to transport women) and 2421 (transportation of women for prostitution).

According to affidavits filed in connection with this case, INS agents identified various locations in the United States, including both Northern and Southern California, where females from Southeast Asia, believed to be present in the United States illegally, were engaging in prostitution. These cities included New York, Seattle, Houston, Las Vegas and cities in California such as Daly City, San Jose, Milpitas, Oakland, San Leandro, Fremont and Alhambra. The indictments allege that between February 1999 and January 2001, the defendants conspired to transport women from Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia with the intent of using them as prostitutes.

Those arrested include: Huan Thui Ly, a/k/a "Peter," 48, of San Jose; Binh Van Tran, a/k/a "John," 25, of San Jose; Hai Hoang Le, 34, of San Jose; Choon Kiaw Lai, 55, of Alhambra, Sam Lo, 29, of San Francisco; Giai Thieu Lam, 29, of Alambra; Sui Chan Chi, 37, of San Jose; Kathy Vo, 30, of San Jose; Jae Young Ha, age unknown, of Santa Clara; Thomas Ly, age unknown of Oakland; and Tjui Ha, 47, of Los Angeles was arrested in Las Vegas were she was being held in custody on similar federal charges. TienVan Le, 28, of San Jose, was arrested in Sacramento where he was being held in custody on unrelated state charges.

According to the affidavits, the investigation revealed that the ring was managing brothels in more than 20 cities nationwide, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. The brothels were typically operated out of single-family homes in suburban settings where they were less likely to arouse suspicion. Some of the women paid $40,000 to be smuggled into the United States and were required to repay the debt to the smuggler by working as prostitutes in these brothels.

"Smuggling young women to the United States for prostitution is not only illegal, it is unconscionable," said INS Acting Commissioner Mary Ann Wyrsch.

The maximum statutory penalty for each conspiracy count in violation of Title18, U.S. Code, Section 371 is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 and 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for interstate transportation of women for each violations of Title18, U.S. Code, Section 2421. However, any sentence following conviction would be dictated by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of factors, and would be imposed in the discretion of the Court. An indictment simply contains allegations against an individual and, as with all defendants, these defendants in this case must be presumed innocent unless and until convicted.

The defendants began making their initial appearances in federal court in San Francisco today before Magistrate Judge James Larson. Huan Thiu Ly a/k/a "Peter" and Sam Lo were both detained as flight risks pending additional detention hearings set for February 15, 2001 at 9:30 a.m. Thomas Ly and Sui Chan Chi were released on $100,000 bail. Initial appearances for the remaining 4 defendants arrested in the Bay Area are set for this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. also before Judge Larson.

Steven F. Gruel is the Assistant U.S. Attorney who is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Helen Yee.

A copy of this press release and key court documents filed in the case may also be found on the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s website at

All press inquiries to the U.S. Attorney’s Office should be directed to Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Jacobs at (415)436-7181

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