News and Press Releases

Defendant Arranged Sham Marriages, Required Long Hours and Prostitution to Pay Debts

July 30, 2009

CHOMPHOONUT DONGIRD, 52, formerly of Bellevue, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 51 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release for Conspiracy to Transport Individuals in Furtherance of Prostitution. DONGIRD ran three massage parlors in the Seattle area employing women who traveled to the area from California and Thailand during the years 2005 to 2008. Some of the women were forced to engage in acts of prostitution and work uncompensated hours to pay DONGIRD for arranging their travel to the U.S. DONGIRD arranged sham marriages for some of the women so that they could stay in the U.S. and continue to work for her. The women paid thousands of dollars in fees to DONGIRD and the “groom” in order to stay in the U.S. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly said “[this] was not one mistake. This was a long, deliberate crime, bringing women for illegal purposes, in effect making them slaves to prostitution . . . over a long period of time...We do not want this condoned or repeated. There is a strong need to protect the public.”

According to records filed in the case, DONGIRD operated three brothel businesses in the guise of providing massage services. Sexual acts were part of the treatment performed for male customers for a fee. Police began investigating the operation in June 2007, after being alerted to a possible marriage fraud scheme involving one of the employees at a Kirkland business called “Lisa Thai Massage” on Market Street. DONGIRD owned that business, as well as Natchaya Thai (The Royal Spa) on Lake Hills Blvd in Bellevue, and “Miracle Thai Massage” in Sea-Tac. Undercover officers documented offers of sex acts as part of the massages performed by the female employees. DONGIRD was seen transporting women to and from the massage parlors. After search warrants were executed by law enforcement at the brothel businesses, three of the women employees revealed that they had been compelled and coerced by DONGIRD into providing sex acts as part of their employment to pay debts owed to DONGIRD for their immigration status in the U.S. DONGIRD had also set up sham marriages for the women, with significant fees both to herself and to the groom who agreed to the fraudulent marriage, so the women could have legal status and remain working for DONGIRD.

DONGIRD was arrested in October 2008, and pleaded guilty in April 2009.

The government is seeking a total of $150,369 in restitution for the two women who were compelled to provide sex acts at DONGIRD’s businesses. A restitution hearing is scheduled for August 27, 2009.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), King County Sheriff’s Office, and the Eastside Narcotics Task Force, and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ye-Ting Woo. For additional information please contact Ms. Woo at (206) 553-7970.

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