Friday, July 12, 2024

Sex workers were set up in “high-end apartment complexes” in Cambridge such as The Atmark, seen May 24. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Upscale apartments in North Cambridge and the Cambridge Highlands were used as “brothels” run in part by a Cambridge woman, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

The criminal enterprise alleged by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security stretched from Korea to Watertown and Virginia, where other apartments were used for sex advertised on websites as “nude Asian models for professional photography,” and included Han Lee, 41, of Cambridge; Junmyung Lee, 30, of Dedham; and James Lee, 68, of Torrance, California.

Among the law enforcement officials credited on the press release are Cambridge police commissioner Christine Elow and Watertown police.

“Customers spanned a wide array of different professional disciplines” including “politicians, pharmaceutical executives, doctors, military officers, government contractors that possess security clearances, professors, lawyers, business executives, technology company executives, scientists, accountants, retail employees and students,” according to an affidavit by an investigator with Homeland Security, Zachary Mitlitsky.

The defendants charged from $350 to upward of $600 an hour in cash depending on the services, with the cheaper end of the pay scale for a “girlfriend experience” and the higher end for sex without a condom, according to the affidavit. Some of the experiences described by customers seem pricey but not especially exotic – one man described spending $200 cash for a half-hour in which “he received a massage and manual manipulation until ejaculation” and declined an “upcharge” of intercourse.

“The defendants allegedly rented high-end apartment complexes as brothel locations, which they furnished and regularly maintained,” the press release says. “The monthly rent for the brothel locations were as high as $3,664.”

Those apartments included units in the Luxe at Alewife building at 80 Cambridgepark Drive, North Cambridge, and the Atmark, 90 Fawcett St., Cambridge Highlands, both near the Alewife MBTA station. The affidavit doesn’t describe the apartments, but the Apartment Finder site says even a studio at Luxe can rent for as much as $6,465 monthly and a two-bedroom can hit $8,048. Zumper said the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge last month was $3,000. Han Lee lives in the area as well, law enforcement officials said.

The people who visited the sex workers were told not to knock on the apartment doors when they arrived – presumably to avoid alerting neighbors to an unusually high number of visitors.

The affidavit includes an anecdote from a Fairfax, Virginia, brothel from August, when the property manager had to be called in to look at a water leak. After visiting to assess the problem, “the property manager left the unit and placed another call to James. During that call, the property manager asked James about who was residing in the unit, to which James stated it was his daughter.”

“When the property manager asked James his daughter’s name, James was unable to provide an answer,” the affidavit says.

Women were enticed into the work – some flying in from South Korea – because the details were taken care of, Mitlitsky said in his affidavit: “These aspects include, but are not limited to, room and board, the [discreet] location of a high-end apartment complex where she is to engage in commercial sex for a fee, food and grocery delivery, advertisements posted to a clientele base that communicates directly with the facilitator without the commercial sex worker having to communicate with customers, and cash payments for the sex at a higher rate,” he writes.

Han Lee and Junmyung Lee were arrested early Wednesday for appearances in federal court in Boston the day. James Lee was arrested in the Central District of California and will appear in federal court in Boston at a later date, officials said. The investigation is active and ongoing.

The charge of conspiracy to coerce and entice to travel to engage in illegal sexual activity could bring sentences of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.