Former San Diego Police Officer and Three Others Sentenced for Crimes Stemming from Years-long Operation of Illicit Massage Businesses
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – October 13, 2023
SAN DIEGO – Peter Griffin, a retired San Diego police vice detective, attorney, and private investigator, was sentenced in federal court today to 33 months in custody for his central role in a conspiracy to operate five California- and Arizona-based illicit massage businesses that profited for years by selling commercial sex under the guise of offering therapeutic massage services.
Griffin’s three co-defendants - Kyung Sook Hernandez, Yu Hong Tan, and Yoo Jin Ott - who managed the illicit massage businesses in Griffin’s network and actively concealed the scheme from law enforcement, were each sentenced to six months in custody.
According to court documents and admissions in plea agreements, the defendants owned and operated “Genie Oriental Spa,” “Felicita Spa,” “Blue Green Spa,” “Maple Spa,” and “Massage W Spa,” located in the greater San Diego area and in Tempe, Arizona, between 2013 and August 2022. The criminal scheme included incorporating their businesses with state agencies, managing the businesses’ illicit proceeds, advertising commercial sexual services online, recruiting and employing women to perform commercial sex services in the businesses, and benefiting financially from the illegal enterprises.
The defendants leased multiple commercial properties as storefronts, leased and bought residential properties to use as housing for employees, and secured credit card processing equipment to facilitate the illegal businesses. Griffin oversaw nearly every aspect of the illicit businesses, making himself indispensable to their operation, and assumed the role of “boss.”
Through the course of the scheme, the defendants exploited the victims, mostly vulnerable, non-English speaking immigrants from Korea and China with limited employment opportunities and financial resources; pressured and expected the employees to perform commercial sex services inside the businesses; and made substantial financial profits from the illegal commercial sexual activity. When one employee initially refused to perform commercial sexual services, one of the defendants instructed her to “leave [her] morals in China” in order to “make the customers happy.”
Griffin, who left the department in 2002, previously worked as a detective with the Vice Operations Unit of the San Diego Police Department, a unit tasked with dismantling the very businesses he operated and promoted for personal profit. Throughout the nine-year criminal scheme, Griffin used the experience and skills he acquired through his work as a vice detective – skills honed by his education as an attorney and work as a private investigator – and his reputation as a former police officer to help the businesses evade law enforcement; conceal evidence; pressure employees to engage in commercial sex; maintain a façade of legitimacy; and thwart regulatory inspections, investigations, and any official action against the businesses.
According to his plea agreement, on several occasions, Griffin used his status as a former law enforcement officer to falsely assure local authorities that his businesses would be operated legitimately. On another occasion, Griffin flashed his badge to a local officer responding to a citizen complaint regarding one of his illicit businesses. Additionally, Griffin told an employee that he was a former police officer and instructed her not to “open [her] mouth” about working at the illicit massage business. Griffin’s co-defendants similarly informed employees of Griffin’s law enforcement background and his resulting “connections” and promised he would protect the illegal businesses from law enforcement detection. Griffin also abused resources he had access to by virtue of his private investigator license to obtain information on customers and employees on behalf of the illicit massage businesses.
“Illicit massage businesses hide in plain sight in many communities in America, including our district,” said U.S. Attorney Tara K. McGrath. “Operators of these businesses often profit through exploitation. For years, Peter Griffin used his connections as a former police officer for his own criminal profiteering. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting these kinds of offenses, protecting our communities, and ensuring that legitimate local businesses are not tarnished by criminal activity.”
“No one is above the law. I’m appalled that someone who once took an oath to protect our community could prey on the vulnerable,” said San Diego Chief of Police David Nisleit. “I’m proud of our own SDPD officers who helped make this investigation possible and I commend our partner agencies for their diligence in holding Peter Griffin and his accomplices accountable. This is an important step toward justice for the survivors of these crimes.”
“Law enforcement professionals swear an oath to protect and defend our communities, and the spirit of that oath should live on even when we stop carrying a badge,” said Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher, IRS Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office. “Mr. Griffin preyed on people who should have felt safer because of his presence. He and his co-conspirators failed in their attempts to conceal their illicit activities because of our special agents’ unique ability to follow the money and a strong cross-agency effort to find the evidence to bring these predators to justice.”
“Peter Griffin abused and exploited vulnerable women by pressuring them into providing commercial sex for profit while taking advantage of his status in the community,” said Chad Plantz, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. “This sentence sends a clear message to those who mistakenly believe they can get away with such repugnant crimes. HSI, in collaboration with our law enforcement partners, will continue to work vigorously to bring to justice those who exploit and victimize vulnerable members of our community.”
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill S. Streja, Trial Attorney Caylee Campbell of the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, and Trial Attorney Leah Branch of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 22cr1824-JO
Peter Griffin 79
Kyung Sook Hernandez 59
Yu Hong Tan 57
Yoo Jin Ott 46
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Conspiracy, Interstate and Foreign Travel or Transportation in Aid of Racketeering (ITAR),
Maximum Penalty: Five years in prison, $250,000 fine
Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud
Maximum Penalty: Thirty years in prison, $1 million fine
Engaging in Monetary Transactions in Property Derived from Specified Unlawful Activity
Maximum Penalty: Ten years in prison, $250,000 fine or twice amount of criminally derived property
Misprision of a Felony
Maximum Penalty: Three years in prison, $250,000 fine
Homeland Security Investigations
Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation
San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force, a regional, multi-agency effort led by the California Department of Justice dedicated to supporting survivors and holding traffickers accountable. The task force is comprised of numerous federal, state, and local agencies, as well as the Southwest Border High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.
U.S. Department of Justice, Money Laundering Asset Recovery Section, Special Financial Investigations Unit
Federal Bureau of Investigation
San Diego Police Department
San Diego Sheriff’s Department
Escondido Police Department
San Diego County District Attorney’s Office
Tempe, Arizona Police Department.
Anyone who has information about human trafficking should report that information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For more information about human trafficking, please visit www.humantraffickinghotline.org.
Media Relations Director Kelly Thornton (619) 546-9726 or Kelly.Thornton@usdoj.gov
Updated October 13, 2023
Press Release Number: CAS23-1013-Griffin