Massage parlor owner pleads guilty in prostitution ring

Woman agrees to aidin probe of human trafficking

Updated: 04/18/08 8:37 AM

The main target in a 15-month human-trafficking investigation pleaded guilty in federal court in Buffalo on Thursday to forcing women to work as prostitutes in her four area massage parlors.

In exchange for her plea, Len Wah Chong promised to help prosecutors make their case against others who are believed to have used their authority and influence to illegally bring the women to Western New York, control their lives and force them to perform sexual acts.

Chong, who is from Malaysia, could have received a minimum 15-year prison term but will be sentenced to 5v to 6z years if she cooperates fully with law enforcement officials.

Under terms of the plea agreement entered before U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, Chong, 43, admitted recruiting female employees through newspaper advertisements and contacts in New York City, sometimes representing her establishments as “licensed” and “safe” from law enforcement action.

“It’s seedy to think that she so quickly forgot what it meant to be an immigrant woman coming into this country — not having a skill, not having legal status,” U.S. Attorney Terrence P. Flynn said after the court proceeding.

Under the plea agreement, Chong, who is also known as Lisa Tsui and is a North Tonawanda resident, must pay $350,000 in restitution to 11 women who are former employees. She also will have to pay a forfeiture to the federal government of $350,000.

Chong was taken into custody until she is sentenced Aug. 14. At that time, she could also face a fine of up to $250,000 and up to five years of supervised release.

Chong was the principal owner of parlors in Wheatfield, the Town of Tonawanda, Lockport and Niagara Falls, which claimed to offer legitimate spa services. She operated the parlors from August 2004 until December, when each parlor, along with her home, was raided by federal agents and local police.

Authorities are continuing to pursue charges against three family members who helped operate the sites, Flynn said.

They are Chong’s husband, Che Ngan “Alan” Tsui; her brother, Kim Poh Chong; and his wife, Wei Zhang.

The massage parlors at 446 Third St., Niagara Falls, and 225 East Ave., Lockport, will be taken as part of the ordered forfeiture. Authorities also seized $70,038 in cash, as well as coins and jewelry from Chong’s home, which will contribute to the forfeiture judgment.

As a part of her guilty plea, Chong admitted she used names and titles of men she said were in positions of authority, like “judge” or “sheriff,” to exert control over the women. There were at least 11 women whom she employed over the period she operated the parlors.

The men who patronized the parlors usually paid $60 for a sex act, but Chong took $50 from that immediately. The women also were charged $25 per day for living expenses, Flynn said.

“So at the end of the day, they really got no money,” he said.

Last month, John Trowbridge, a former Lockport police captain, pleaded guilty in federal court to twice transporting women across state lines to work as prostitutes at gatherings of a national fraternal organization, the Royal Order of Jesters.

He also admitted he paid women for sexual favors at the Wheatfield massage parlor.

The Trowbridge case was a spinoff of the parlors probe.

Retired State Supreme Court Justice Ronald H. Tills and his former law clerk, Michael Stebick, also are being investigated as part of the Trowbridge case, multiple sources have confirmed to The Buffalo News.

Also in a related case, federal agents are looking at Niagara County Coroner James M. Joyce’s ties to Chong’s husband. The pair had business relations, and Joyce has admitted using his connections to try to help Tsui. Joyce has denied he knew anything about prostitution at the massage parlors.

Chong’s former massage parlor employees are Asian nationals who are also working with law enforcement and are being assisted by the International Institute. Some of them may still be subject to deportation, Flynn said.

When asked about Chong’s motives, Flynn said she was a woman “clearly motivated by greed.”

“You would think as a woman she would be sensitive to the concerns of these women coming here,” Flynn said. “Obviously they’re disadvantaged. They’re in a world that they’re not a citizen, maybe in a man’s world, since it’s the men who are paying for the services.

“So you would have hoped that she would know better, but clearly she did not. She let greed get the best of her.”

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