The solid sheets of white plastic, smooth and impenetrable like the back of a Polaroid photograph, stuck to the windows of the private room where the mama-san, a heavily painted older woman with thick pouting lips, brought him. He’d darted in an hour before midnight. According to the police report, the Mama-san extracted a $60 entrance fee from him. A young Korean woman with plucked eyebrows and dark hair streaked with blond entered the room. Her name was Sung Yeon Kim and she was 28 years old. She told him her name was Bonnie.
He didn’t understand her through her thick Korean accent. He asked her to spell her name.
“B-A-N-N-Y,” she obliged.
“It’s B-O-N-N-I-E, isn’t it? Bonnie,” he corrected her.
“Yes,” she agreed. They both laughed.
Bonnie undressed him, the report says. His clothes fell to the floor. She led him to the shower room. She gave him a table shower, washing him with a moveable showerhead while he lay face up on a massage table. She lathered up his body. She washed his genitals. She asked him to turn around, and she washed his back. She wrapped him in a towel. They went back to the first room, with the white windows.
He lay down on the small bed in the room. Bonnie fondled his genitals. She rubbed her mound against his leg. He thought she was very aggressive.
“You want everything?” she allegedly asked, “Sex, too?”
“Yes, same price, $100?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied, pointing to a table in the room.
He placed $100 on the table.
Bonnie tugged a condom onto his erect penis.
When it was over, she washed him once more before he left. He had been in the massage parlor for approximately 55 minutes, according to the report.
Outside, New Haven Police Department officers in a purposefully nondescript vehicle were waiting for him. They followed him, and, after a certain distance, they stopped him. Then he told them what had happened with Bonnie. He was a confidential informant who had been recruited by the police to buy sex from this massage parlor. The distance for meeting with these officers had been pre-arranged, and his testimony was filed in the police report. His identity is undisclosed, although the report says he has worked on stings with NHPD on numerous occasions for more than two years. The NHPD reimbursed him for the $160 in total he had spent on Bonnie, but it is unclear whether the man was paid by the police for his services — perhaps he considered the services he received from Bonnie payment enough. That was June 5, 2009.
On July 17 of that year, a little more than a month after the confidential informant’s visit, police raided the massage parlor, Star Sauna. They closed down the facility and arrested seven women on the premises. Three men were caught in a state of undress and “in the act of sexual activity.” They were not arrested. Bonnie was interrupted while entertaining one of the men in a bikini. She and the other women were arrested. She was charged with two counts of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to commit prostitution. Both are class A misdemeanors in Connecticut. If found guilty, Bonnie could be subject to imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of up to $2,000 for each count. Her case will go to trial May 19, 2011 at Courthouse New Haven GA 23, on the corner of College and Church streets. She is being represented by Mark Katz of Stamford, Connecticut, who declined to comment. She has pleaded not guilty.
The sauna occupied the first floor of a two-story blue clapboard building on 1358 Whalley Ave., about a 10-minute drive from Yale. Cars trying to get to the building must grope their way past the cars in the drive-through of a Dunkin’ Donuts that conceals the sauna from the street. The only light visible from the white-plastic covered windows was a neon “Open” sign that would beckon from 10 a.m. until well past midnight, seven days a week.
Less than four months after the police raid on Star Sauna, a new massage parlor called Sun Star opened in the same location. The phone number for Sun Star was Star Sauna’s former phone number. The white plastic remains today, and the “Open” sign glows again. Sun Star advertises in the “Massage/Escort” section of the New Haven Advocate, the same section in which Star Sauna used to advertise. According to the online forums spahunters.com and usasexguide.info, Sun Star offers all the services Star Sauna once offered, including table showers and full-service sex.
An older Korean woman stopped me in the parking lot when I visited Sun Star on July 3. She refused to provide a list of massage services, nor would she allow me within 20 feet of the building structure. She was heavily painted, with thick pouty lips. Her eyes followed my car as I pulled out of the parking lot..
Two of my male friends met a different mama-san when they later attempted to investigate Sun Star. (They did not indentify themselves as repoters.) Within 15 seconds of their ringing the doorbell, the mama-san had pulled them into Star Sauna’s impenetrably black front door. “Hello, I Love You” by The Doors blasted over speakers. Lightly stroking their arms, she led them down a dimly lit and Japanese-themed hallway, past the shower room, into a sparse parlor with one narrow, hostel-style bed. Lacking the traditional massage-specific headrest, it looked more like a gurney than a massage-bed. There, she asked the men repeatedly if they were 21. They responded in the affirmative, repeatedly. Finally, she asked to see their IDs.
In the State of Connecticut, massage services may legally be performed for a client of any age. Prostitution is illegal no matter what the age of the parties. Sex with a person under the age of 16 is considered statutory rape.
Once she had their IDs in hand, the woman did not bother to check their birthdays to verify their ages (though, if she had, both correspondents were 21 years of age exactly). She informed the correspondents that a shower and massage would be $60 each. Neither of the correspondents had money. (It was not their intention to sample Star Sauna’s services.) On their way out, Nina gently squeezed their buttocks.
Men who frequent Asian massage parlors have extensively reviewed Star Sauna, and Bonnie in particular, on usasexguide.com. In one example, “CT Boobman” writes, “I do love the fact that she has a nice little trim bush, a nice contrast to all the shaven kitty you see so much in the strip clubs.” These accounts are often written with a bravado that suggests exaggeration, but they still provide a remarkable window into the activities in which Bonnie allegedly engaged.
On Feb. 5, 2008, the Wallingford Police arrested Dong Yoo for owning three spas in Wallingford that were fronts for prostitution, according to the search warrant for Star Sauna. Evidence seized at Yoo’s place of residence indicated that he also owned Star Sauna in New Haven, the warrant says.
Business records seized by the police in the 2009 raid list Star Sauna’s owner’s name not as Dong Yoo but as David Woo. The City of New Haven received four applications for building permits to modify Star Sauna between April 25, 2005, and May 19, 2005, according to city records. On each application, the space for owner is occupied by a different name: David Yoo, David Ngu, David Ewe and Duck Kim.
A man by the name of Duck Kim was arrested by Hamden police in 2005 for promoting prostitution. Born in 1934, he is close in age to Dong Yoo (born 1940) and was tried in the same courthouse where Dong Yoo is now facing trial. Duck Kim pleaded guilty to promoting prostition in the third degree and was sentenced to two years in jail, which were suspended with a three-year probation time. (In other words, Duck Kim did not have to serve his two years in jail as long as he did not engage in crime during his three-year probation period.) The permit listing Duck Kim as the owner of Star Sauna appeared 27 days after this sentence was issued, on April 12, 2005.
Two major activities of Asian organized crime networks are the trafficking of women from Korea into the United States and the operation of massage parlors that offer Korean prostitutes, according to “Modern-Day Comfort Women: The U.S. Military, Transnational Crime, and the Trafficking of Women,” an article published in the book, “International Sex Trafficking of Women & Children: Understanding the Global Epidemic.” The author, Donna Hughes of the University of Rhode Island, explain that these networks are usually able to re-open massage parlors within days or even weeks of police raids.
As detailed in the book “Love For Sale: A World History of Prostitution” by Norwegian historian Nils Johan Ringdal, the practice of smuggling Korean prostitutes into the United States began in the early 20th century. Women were often furnished with legal papers and camouflaged as “daughters” or “nieces” of their mama-san, usually their purchaser’s wife or sister. The role of transporting prostitutes into the United States is now often carried out by U.S. servicemen, according to Hughes. For $3,000 to $10,000 they marry the women, deliver them to their destination brothels and divorce them immediately thereafter. The police report from Bonnie’s arrest notes that she had been married once and was separated from her husband at the time of the arrest. She has a social security number, indicating that she as in the U.S. legally. Her husband’s identity is unlisted in the police report. According to Connecticut state law, if Bonnie can prove that she was trafficked, or even just coerced into prostitution, then she is not guilty.