Sex Work

14 Arrested, 12 Migrant Women in Custody, and 'Additional Moneys and Properties Will Be Seized' Following Shutdown of Seattle Sex-Work Forum 'The Review Board'

Here's what we know about the takedown of The Review Board and 12 allegedly associated brothels.



Following last week's shutdown of Seattle sex-work forum The Review Board (TRB), law enforcement agents from the FBI, the King County Sheriff's Office, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, and the Bellevue Police Department held a press conference at the county courthouse in Seattle. I watched along from the Reason office thanks to a live feed from KIRO 7 News, but there's unfortunately no saved recording of it online—so, alas, we're unable to count for sure how many times officials contradicted themselves. But suffice to say, there was more than a whiff of fabulism in their account of South Korean women smuggled into the country, held in "sexual servitude," and trafficked via sites such as TRB and 

(Update: the whole press conference has been made available by King County and is viewable at the bottom of this post.) 

Here's what we know with reasonable certainty: On January 5, FBI agents and local police served 126 search warrants and court orders, culminating in the arrest of 14 individuals, the "rescue" of 12 women, and the shutdown of 12 enterprises police described as "brothels." Those arrested include three alleged brothel owners as well as 11 members of an enterprise that called itself "The League." Thus far, law enforcement has seized $77,000, three vehicles, and one firearm from these individuals, though they expect that "additional moneys and properties will be seized." 

The "rescued" South Korean sex workers were currently being detained at an undisclosed location. Police admitted that they had only interviewed one or a few of the women at the time of the press conference, but felt confident stating that all 12 were "true victims of human trafficking," part of a web of Asian women "abused, raped, and murdered" after immigrating here illegally or coming legally but overstaying visas. Officials painted a convoluted and lurid scenario involving sneaking over the Canadian border and debt bondage, by which these women somehow came to work at the brothels where they were held—"more or less agai-" said Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett, then paused, correcting his equivocation, "well, no, held against their will"—and "their sexual autonomy was stolen from them repeatedly," all at the encouragement of this mysterious League. 

But pressed by local media about the connection between the human smugglers, the brothels, TheReview, and The League, King County Sheriff John Urquhart clarified that it was "probably just the women." There was no coordinated action between the smugglers and debt-bondage lords and the people of The Review Board or The League. It's unclear whether there was coordinated action between these individuals and the brothel owners. 

The best I can make out from law-enforcement statements and documents is that we have 1) South Korean women who were in the country illegally, perhaps helped by human-smugglers to whom they now owed a large debt; 2) these women started working in the sex trade, perhaps totally willingly or perhaps totally by force but most likely a combination of coercion and lack of options; and 3) at some point, they began advertising (or were advertised) on TRB website, which was owned by a man named Sigurd Zitars, or "Tahoe Ted."

Tahoe Ted is allegedly one of the founding members of The League, a sort of gentleman's club for prolific sex buyers. Seattle-area League members sometimes met in person, and also communicated on TRB and a site they put together themselves, The purpose of the group was largely to discuss different aspects of being a "hobbyist"—the preferred term of many sex-industry clients—and to review local sex workers, especially Asian sex workers. A list of guidelines for The League members stressed the importance of good hygiene, wearing condoms, and respecting sex workers' boundaries. The League members may have also pooled resources to found one or several of the brothels that police shut down.  

The brothels were all located in luxury apartments in Bellevue, just across the lake from Seattle. According to ads provided by law enforcement, clients payed around $300 per hour or $240 per half-hour for liasions with the women at these locations. One-third of this money allegedly went to brothel owners; it's unclear if the women kept the rest of the money they made or were expected to turn it over to another third party, perhaps the people involved in their smuggling or those operating the prostitution network that sent some of them around the country for guest sex stints in other cities. 

If the Korean women in question were victims of sex trafficking, it seems to have been perpetrated by some combination of the individuals who helped them enter or stay in the country illegally and those who ran these sex-trade networks. The men of The League merely enjoyed the company of these women, and postings procured by police indicate that they do not suspect the women of being sex slaves; at most they mention that some of the "new girls" seem nervous.

The Review Board, meanwhile, was only tangentially involved as a forum for advertisement and discussion of these women, along with all sorts of independent sex workers in the area. Law enforcement said they had personal information on all the sex workers and hobbyists registered with TRB, they said, but were not anticipating charges at this time. 

Of the 14 people who have been arrested, only two—alleged brothel owners Michael Durnal and Donald Mueller—were booked on human trafficking charges. Durnal and Mueller were also booked for money laundering. The rest of those arrested—including alleged brothel owner Jabong "Crystal" Kim, Tahoe Ted, and 10 other alleged members of The League—were booked on charges of promoting prostitution in the second degree, a class C felony. 

As for websites like The Review Board, "there are still umpteen websites out there that we haven't gotten to yet," said Sheriff Urquhart, promising that they would eventually go after these sites, too. 

Many independent sex workers showed up to last week's press conference and took to Twitter to complain about the shutdown of TRB, which they say enabled them to meet and screen clients more easily than they would on the streets or other venues, as well as share information with one another about bad or dangerous clients. Shutting down the site because a small portion of the women advertising there may have been trafficked is both unfair and unlikely to make anyone safer, they insisted. But officials scoffed at these assertions, stating that prostitution was still illegal in King County and, as such, everyone involved with the site was participating in crime.  

While law enforcement certainly views The Review Board, and other sites like it, as nothing more than a conduit for illegal activity, most of what went on there could be characteried as speech: men trading reviews and comments with one another about women engaged in both prostitution and legal forms of sex work; women trading tips about how other women could protect themselves, etc. There are certainly potential First Amendment concerns at play here.

In a recent case involving classified-ad site—another venue that facilitates sex work and is accused by law enforcement of perpetuating sex trafficking—7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner ruled against Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart, who had been pressuring credit card companies to stop doing business with Backpage. By "using the power of his office to threaten legal sanctions against the credit-card companies for facilitating future speech," wrote Posner, the sheriff was "violating the First Amendment unless there is no constitutionally protected speech in the ads on Backpage's website—and no one is claiming that." However, Backpage publishes classified ads in many categories, making it less easy to portray as merely a venue for illegal activity and non-protected speech.

The 12 South Korean women in law-enforcement custody will be offered an unspecified form of "help," officials said at the press conference. They may be able to avoid deportation by applying for special victims' visas if they were subject to human trafficking. 

NEXT: Watch Jacob Sullum Discuss Mandatory Minimums and the Oregon Standoff on Ron Paul's Show

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  1. Let’s be clear, these women aren’t “victims of sex trafficking.” They’re illegal immigrants and visa abusers coming here to take jobs away from hardworking Americans. This is why we need Trump, to make American sex work great again.

    1. Doing work that Americans aren’t willing to do.

    2. We need to bring these jobs back from their offshore locations in the Caribbean.

      /Bill Clinton (secret chair, Trump for President).

      1. But how else are you gonna rack up frequent flier miles, Bill?

  2. War On Women!!!

    And here I thought Seattle was pretty progressive on the whole “my body, my choice” thing. Damn Bible-thumping right-wing extremists determined to keep women in the kitchen and government in the bedroom.

    1. Rabble rabble AGENCY rabble rabble

  3. by which these women somehow came to work at the brothels where they were held?”more or less agai-” said Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett, then paused, correcting his equivocation, “well, no, held against their will”?and “their sexual autonomy was stolen from them repeatedly,” all at the encouragement of this mysterious League.

    Well at least they’re free now, right?

    The “rescued” South Korean sex workers were currently being detained at an undisclosed location.


    1. Also, their sexual autonomy has been stolen from them again.

      1. It hasn’t been stolen, nicole. It was seized by the state and may be returned to them at a later date.

        1. As long as they don’t misplace it in the evidence room, I guess.

        2. As long as they exercise their sexual autonomy in state-approved ways, they can keep their sexual autonomy.

      2. Listen, nikki, those women’s vaginae are property of the Department of Defense. We can’t have civilians running around with military-grade gear!

  4. Basically, they continue to enforce the law in a way that makes sex work even more dangerous to both seller and purchaser, which means that the only purchasers are ones that are not scared of legal consequences and willing to break the law, which means they also don’t care if the woman is doing it voluntarily or not, which also means that women who are doing it voluntarily are far less safe, which means fewer of them are willing to do it, which means a never-ending cycle of bullshit.

    1. They want it be less safe. If they ever find a murdered Asian hooker, they can use that as ‘proof’ of their claims and demand more money and power. See the drug war.

      1. More than that, look at what it nets them:

        They may be able to avoid deportation by applying for special victims’ visas if they were subject to human trafficking.

        The feds have a machine for generating victims of trafficking, which they may or may not have been but on paper certainly are now. Frankly, it seems likelier they were recruited willingly. Why bother kidnapping or press-ganging anyone when there are doubtless willing applicants who want a bite at that apple? Regardless, they and anyone else in their shoes now have an option to claim a visa in the United States (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), in the process bolstering the narrative regarding sex trafficking (which is).

        1. Plus the cops get all of that stolen loot thanks to asset forfeiture.

          Basically, the taxpayers lose, the johns lose and the women who voluntarily entered into this profession lose.

  5. With marijuana legalized at the state level, those interdiction dollars have to be spent somehow/where. Women and minorities to take the brunt.

    1. Right, it’s not like they can just NOT spend that money, after all. That would be crazy talk.

  6. …seized $77,000, three vehicles, and one firearm from these individuals, though they expect that “additional moneys and properties will be seized.”

    Incentives matter. That could end up being quite the pile of loot.

  7. Apparently hookers are one kind of refugee the Obama administration is interested in sending home.

    1. What are Cubans, chopped liver?

    2. Didn’t they just send home a bunch of Central Americans? Or did that not really happen?

      1. They did. It was a joke Zeb. relax.

      2. “A bunch”? Roughly 100 of 12 million?

  8. *Crosses “Tahoe Ted” off list of potential non de plumes.”

  9. They may be able to avoid deportation by applying for special victims’ visas if they were subject to human trafficking.

    Which, of course, they’ll probably all apply for the visas whether they were truly trafficked or not. Therefore allowing the government to claim that all 12 women were “trafficked,” and point to this case a prime example of the kind of “good works” they do when it comes time to justify an increase to their budget next year.

    1. Not to mention 12 new lifetime welfare recipients for our broke-ass government to support.

      Because that’s better than letting them willfully engage in consensual sex in exchange for money.

      1. consensual sex in exchange for money.

        There’s no such ting as “consensual sex,” you’d understand that if you weren’t such a cis-hetero male shitlord. And the fact that it’s to make TEH EVUL MONEY makes it even worse! CHEK YUR PRIVLEDGE!11!!11!!!! /feminist progderp

  10. they were held?”more or less agai-” said Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett, then paused, correcting his equivocation, “well, no, held against their will”

    Gotta love how he almost said something honest and then remembered “the narrative” and stopped himself. I guess he was almost honest.

  11. 11 members of an enterprise that called itself “The League.”

    …. of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

    1. In their case, extra is an intensifier.

  12. ‘Hot Sauce’.

    ‘Tahoe Ted’.

    A lot of the stories lately tell me that if you have a spiffy nick name your life is likely to take a bad turn.

    *eyes handle, considers changing to actual surname*

  13. When did we stop using “immigrant” and start using “migrant”?

    To me, a “migrant” is somebody who is participating in a migration, and is probably not a bad word to use for the flood of people coming into Europe from MENA. You could also maybe have used it during the peak of Mexican immigration to the US.

    Is this just more proggy re-definition of the language, trying to shake off the subconscious connection between “immigrant” and “illegal immigrant”? Trying to get a little of that refugee shine on everyone who crosses a border?

    1. Take off the tinfoil hat there, buddy. The term “migrant worker” has been around since, I don’t know, Operation Wetback? The difference is that a “migrant” usually doesn’t intend to stay in the country long-term; I doubt these ladies intended to set roots down here. Like many sex-workers, they intended to earn enough money here to go back home and invest in beauty salons and the like (as is the trend in that part of the world).

      Is “guest sex-worker” more pleasing to thine ear, Dean?

      1. Furthermore, it is possible to migrate within one’s own country. You’ve heard of carpetbaggers, no?

        1. Wasn’t internal migration renamed “white flight”?

          1. Well, you also had the “Black flight” from the Deep South to places like Detroit and Gary. Currently, there is a large internal migration from the Mid-West and Northeast to the South and West.

      2. Just as long as they’re H1-B and not HIV workers.

      3. What were the braceros, chopped liver?

      4. Eh, maybe so, Heroic. I just found it an odd usage for these women in this situation.

        “Migrant” worker I think meant mostly that they moved from one town to another following the crops, etc.

        Am I paranoid about the abuse of language and meaning to advance political goals? You bet I am. If you aren’t, you aren’t paying attention. Like I said, its odd that allofasudden people who would not formerly have been described as “migrants” are now catching the term.

        1. “Migrant” worker I think meant mostly that they moved from one town to another following the crops, etc.

          In some areas of the “trade” that’s how it works too. I’m sure you’ve heard of prostitutes converging on a city that’s hosting a major convention or sports event. I also disagree that these people wouldn’t have been called migrants before. I’ve heard of them being called migrants before, and as the Google Ngram data show, the term itself is actually being used less commonly than before.

          1. Of course, the fact that the term is being used less generally, could make it even more suspicious that it is being used to describe people who generally don’t fit the description.

            [wraps another layer of tinfoil around heard]

            1. to describe people who generally don’t fit the description

              We’ll have to agree to disagree there. At least in to how I’ve encountered the term, I think you’re being overly-narrow. The term “migrant” highlights the fact that they have no intention of settling in the country, not their particular line of work.

        2. That is not to say the Venn diagram between “illegal immigrant” and “migrant” is two completely separate circles. The distinction in international law is that a migrant travels outside of national borders to find work, as opposed to an immigrant who intends to settle in the country. It is quite possible to be an “illegal migrant”, for example, a Mexican living in a border town crossing over to do day work and then returning by nightfall.

          1. The distinction in international law is that a migrant travels outside of national borders to find work, as opposed to an immigrant who intends to settle in the country.

            I did not know that. I tend to associate “migrant” more with being part of a mass relocation (a “migration”) than more individual movements.

      5. Is “guest sex-worker” more pleasing to thine ear, Dean?

        I find the concept very pleasing indeed, yes.

      1. Hmm…the squirrels don’t like the link. Type in the phrase “migrant worker”, with quotes, to see what I mean.

  14. there was more than a whiff of fabulism in their account of South Korean women smuggled into the country, held in “sexual servitude,” and trafficked via sites such as TRB and

    1980 called to reclaim its stereotypes, not that the meatheads sending this stuff out or consuming it can see past the opportunity to indulge in moral panic.

    Korea (you can just say Korea) has a robust first-world economy with per capita GDP that has grown by something like 1500% over the past generation plus. Young Korean women are about as likely to be shipped off for dangerous sex work in Seattle as someone growing up in Buffalo would be.

    1. Wait, so does that make it more or less likely that they were kidnapped or not? Or that they’re just bored middle-class kids slumming in America?

  15. You stated that there was unfortunately no saved recording of the press conference online, but I was able to find the full press conference at the county courthouse in Seattle on YouTube by KingCountyTV.
    Here is the link:
    Description: A large scale human trafficking investigation is being conducted by the King County Sheriff’s Office with the assistance of the Bellevue Police Department and support from the FBI and the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

  16. 98% of those independent ladies on the TRB had pimps ( predators ) at one time.

    The TRB was consumed of johns and predators. Would you consider Tahoe Ted a predator?

    The misguided sexworkers weren’t able to figure this out. Or didn’t care.

    Let’s examine what prostitution is.

    Prostitution is the business of predators making large sums of money by using manipulation and coercion on vulnerable woman, often young girls, to have sex with strangers. The girls are verbally, physically and mentally abused by the predator.

    Prostitution is an industry built on predatory actions.

    Legalization WILL NOT STOP predators from finding girls.

    Now let’s take a look at what legalization would mean for the street level pimps to managers of brothels, dance clubs, the pornography industry..

    The tragedy is that legalization of prostitution will make it easier for the predator to get richer off the girls while avoiding prosecution.

    Sadly the girls will continue to suffer.

    The better approach.

    Continue arresting the predators and johns while providing exit services for the women who want to leave the life.

    Studies show that the girls want help getting out of the life that they helplessly fell into.

    No to legalizing prostitution.

    Prostitution – One of the oldest forms of slavery in the world. Women have been sold and bartered with since days of old.

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