Sex Trafficking

ICE Agents Fight Sex Trafficking by Paying Potential Victims for Hand Jobs

In "Operation Asian Touch," federal agents coerced suspected human-trafficking victims into sex acts. Local cops seized money and threw them in jail.

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Agents with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Arizona have been "fighting" human trafficking by sending federal immigration agents to coerce suspected victims into paid sex acts. These acts were later used by authorities to justify arresting women who agreed to them, seizing their assets, and telling the press it was these women who were the real predators.

Federal agents had at least 17 sexual encounters with "Asian females" working in massage parlors around Mohave County, Arizona, over a five-month period in 2018, according to new research from the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University (ASU). Internal ICE documents show these activities had the blessing of agents' supervisors.

When it was all over, the years-long operation yielded three misdemeanor charges stemming from a single sexual encounter which authorities interrupted during a raid.

Absurd and horrifying? Obviously. But also a scenario that is far from an isolated incident.

"Operation Asian Touch"

The Mohave County investigation—dubbed "Operation Asian Touch"—exclusively targeted Asian massage businesses and spas. Police from Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City began the investigation in 2016 after allegedly receiving reports that some employees at these businesses would provide erotic extras along with back and foot rubs.

Local cops decided these businesses were likely human-trafficking fronts after learning that all of the masseuses were Asian women, according to a Homeland Security memo about the investigation. So, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)—a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—got involved in spring 2018.

One of the women charged in this operation was Yuqin Shu, an immigrant from China in her mid-50s who ran a licensed foot massage business in Bullhead City. Shu's case first came to my attention last fall, via the Mohave Daily News, which reported that Shu's lawyer was questioning how DHS agents having sex with suspected abuse victims helps protect national security.

"It is unclear how an ICE officer having sexual relations with human trafficking victims in Mohave County, Arizona, protects the nation from terrorist attacks or secures the borders," wrote attorney Brad Rideout in a motion seeking the real names of the undercover agents, who were identified in police documents only as "Arturo" and "Sergio."

I wrote about Shu's case in a larger look at this sordid campaign ("Massage Parlor Panic"), which Reason published in February. Many of the cases described in my article had failed to gain much media attention and, when they did, it was from outlets basically just transcribing police's convoluted and dubious rescue claims. But two of these stories– the 2017 death of Queens-based massage worker Yang Song during a police raid on her workplace, and the 2019 massage-parlor stings in Florida that ensnared New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft—managed to break through the usual fog of sensationalism and bootlicking to attract widespread attention in a way that got people asking good questions.

Homeland Security Investigations was also a part of the Florida stings, with an undercover agent visiting businesses in Indian River Beach and Orange counties and paying women there for sex acts.

Following the recent ASU investigation, national and mainstream media have been discovering and disapproving of "Operation Asian Touch." This is great—so long as nobody mistakes what happened in Mohave County for an atypical investigation.

If you track initial claims about massage parlor-based human trafficking through to their actual conclusions, you'll almost always find law enforcement simply targeting sex workers, small-business owners, immigrants, and the people who patronize them with harassment, assault, arrest, property seizure, prosecution, detainment, and deportation. And the "victims" they allegedly set out to save frequently wind up facing criminal charges.

There are only two roles women can play in this Homeland Security-led charade: helpless sex slave or conniving human trafficker. (Both types of women are invited to stroke ICE agent penises.)

A Victim-Centered Approach?

Shu is one of countless Asian immigrant women terrorized by the U.S. government in a nationwide immigration sweep dressed up as a "victim-centered" effort to save captive girls and women held in "modern slavery." Homeland Security perpetuates the rescue narrative (and asks people to participate in "awareness" and surveillance efforts) through the Blue Campaign.

Many local police departments—including the Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City agencies involved here—ban sexual activity with victims, suspects, or anyone in cop custody. But partnerships with federal agents and confidential informants allow them to circumvent their own policies.

An HSI memo on the Mohave County investigation describes instance after instance of an undercover federal agent (U.C.) telling a masseuse "to masturbate him." It includes accounts like "the female placed oil on her hand and began to stroke the U.C.'s penis. After a few minutes, the female stopped and gave the U.C. a towel to clean himself." Or "she masturbated the U.C. untill [sic] he told her he was done." In several instances, ICE agents paid extra for masseuses to strip naked or go topless while jerking them off.

Some HSI incident reports are peppered with descriptions like "the female was very skinny with small breasts," or "the Asian female had black hair and was wearing a black shirt, black skirt, fishnet stockings, and heels."

Not all of the massage workers that ICE agents visited would agree to sex acts. The HSI memos muse that this is probably because the women were on to their agents' identities (and not that some of these workers just choose to not do that).

After a few months of ICE agents trying to finagle sex from women they described as likely victims of human trafficking, federal and local law enforcement made a big to-do about their "rescue" work. In a September 2018 article with a headline touting the "8 arrested in human trafficking investigation," the Arizona Republic noted that ICE officials "held a joint press conference … with the Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City police departments, about the extensive undercover operation that led to the arrests."

Police told the press that Shu was suspected of a range of horrible offenses. This included trafficking persons for forced labor, unlawfully obtaining labor, procuring people for a house of prostitution, and sex trafficking, the Arizona Republic reported on September 26. But the next day, when Shu was charged, none of the more severe offenses were part of the indictment.

Ultimately, Shu was charged with money laundering in the first degree and operating a house of prostitution—both felonies—for allegedly agreeing to sexual activity with ICE agents. The affidavit to get a warrant for Shu's arrest stated that "an undercover agent with the Homeland Security Investigation team" went to Shu's house on three separate occasions—May 15, June 21, and September 17, 2018—and paid Shu to perform sex acts for him, according to Shu's motion to compel information on the agents.

Secrecy About Sex With Victims Trumps Catching Criminals

Last fall, the Mohave County Superior Court said Homeland Security should indeed have to turn over information about "Arturo" and "Sergio"—and that the pair could not be used as witnesses unless the court got their full names and addresses.

DHS responded by telling Mohave County police and prosecutors it would not be participating in the case any further.

As a result, in December 2019, prosecutors dismissed all charges against Amanda Yamauchi and Dean Michael Bassett—the pair whom authorities had initially described as the heads of a "transnational criminal organization." Either that description was just spin all along, or DHS is willing to let evildoers go free rather than answer questions about its policy of agents getting off on sex trafficking.

A few weeks later, on December 30, the charges against Yuqin Shu and another woman, who had been charged with prostitution, were dropped.

Ultimately, the operation that consumed years of police, court, and federal agency time landed just three state misdemeanor convictions, all stemming from a single incident of sexual activity for pay. A 45-year-old woman was convicted of prostitution—landing her 56 days in jail and a $600 fine—while the man who paid her was convicted of solicitation. Her husband, who drove her to the massage parlor where this took place, accepted a plea deal on one charge of attempted pandering.

The whole thing is "a lesson in how not to fight human trafficking," opines the editorial board of Today's News-Herald, a newspaper covering Lake Havasu City. "Homeland Security clearly hopes the whole thing will just go away," they write. "Requests for information from the News-Herald have gone unanswered by the agency."

ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe told ASU reporters that in Operation Asian Touch, "conduct by a limited number of HSI agents involved in the investigation was not consistent with HSI policy."

But that's untrue, say Arizona police. "Our understanding of (Homeland Security) policy is that their investigators are allowed to participate in sex acts while working undercover," Dan Doyle, police chief for Lake Havascu City, told Today's News-Herald last December.

"Detectives were informed by HSI that the undercover sexual activity was authorized," Bullhead Police Department spokeswoman Emily Fromelt told Howard Center reporters.

Nothing in Homeland Security rules explicitly ban agents from engaging in sexual activity as part of investigations. Meanwhile, an HSI manual expressly states that "otherwise illegal" activity is sometimes OK for undercover agents. Possible justifications for such activity are broad, including the need to "establish or maintain credibility of a cover identity" or to "obtain information or evidence … not reasonably available without participation in the otherwise illegal activity."

Cops Get Their Cut

While these stories are getting more national attention, most big outlets are missing the fact that this whole operation was something of a farce to begin with—an immigration enforcement effort and old-fashioned vice sting under the guise of something more heroic. Some reports suggest that federal authorities started off with only the most sincere concern for masseuses' welfare and that things then went awry.

If that's the case, they sure have a screwy way of expressing concern. All I see in this case is authorities exploiting people they called sex slaves, and then refusing to show up for them when it comes time to seek justice. ICE agents paid potential victims to make them orgasm, then disappeared, while local police misled the press about it, then stole from "victims" through the racket known as civil asset forfeiture.

HSI Deputy Special Agent in Charge Lon Weigand said at a press conference that $128,000 in cash and around $30,000 worth of gold coins and jewelry were seized during the operation. According to ASU's report, most of this—$105,120—has not been and will not be returned, despite most of the cases being dismissed.

At the 2018 press conference, Lake Havasu City Police Chief Dan Doyle crowed that this investigation is "a great example of 'see something, say something'," referring to the centerpiece slogan of many Homeland Security efforts, including those related to human trafficking.

He's right, of course—the Mohave County debacle is a perfect example of how HSI and ICE fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation. That is exactly why Homeland Security's sex-trafficking savior sham needs to stop.

NEXT: The ACA and the Declaratory Judgment Act

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    1. If it went directly to touch, then it was bad touch. If it bounced into touch, good touch.

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  1. Finally an article about ENB’s former life.

  2. >>and telling the press it was these women who were the real predators.

    did “the press” laugh at them and call them idiots?

    1. No, they sucked their dicks

  3. Everyone knows that, for government agents “securing the homeland” is a euphemism for free sex.

  4. The good news is ICE won’t be around much longer. Democrats — including democratic socialists like AOC — agree with us Koch / Reason libertarians that it should be abolished. President Biden will dismantle that evil agency in his first week in office.

    1. He better do it his first day in office.
      Because the second day in office his VP will execute article 25 papers and throw him out on his ass.

      1. Skinny & Sweet in the coffee quicker.

      2. 2nd day? Please. A good VP would have that paperwork waiting to be dropped within 5 minutes of being sworn in.

        1. It’s fine, they are going to save us money. As soon as Biden says “So help me god” he will be pushed down the steps of the capital, and the VP will be right there to put their hand on the same Bible/Koran.

    2. Democrats talk about justice and immigration reform the same was Republicans talk about balancing the budget… then they get in charge and it’s as bad or worse than ever.

    3. The next federal agency the Democrats dismantle will be the first.

    4. ICE shouldn’t be around, but not for few of the reasons cited by many of those on the Left. And if it’ shut down for the wrong reasons the wrong lessons will be learned from it.

      As far as counting on the Democrats to ensure beneficial goals don’t trump means .. remember that WACO was justified on the grounds of merely investigating alleged child abuse.

      1. no edit ability here .. “but FOR few of the reasons cited”..

  5. According to ASU’s report, most of this—$105,120—has not been and will not be returned, despite most of the cases being dismissed.

    Prove the money is innocent!

    1. Money is always guilty. It’s evil. It says so right here in my bible.

      1. More than likely it says the love of money is the root of all evil.

        1. More modern translations render the phrase as “root of all kinds of evil.”

        2. And socialists love your money.

          1. Luke 19:11-27. Jesus destroys the socialist in defense of capitalism! (if the bible was Youtube).

        3. You must not be reading the political version.

        4. Of course it does. But don’t mention that to multi-millionaire evangelists or politicians getting rich off the system.

          1. What are millions compared to the TRILLIONS that a handful of people in DC have to throw around just to virtue signal against a bat cold virus. Without a few private Billionaires we’d have no defense at all .. assuming that money = power.

            1. I have nothing against billionaires. However people who are supposed to be a) pious, or b) public servants, who get rich off their “flocks” is not something which ingratiates them to me.

  6. In our current milieu, how does naming a sting “Operation Asian Touch” not fall under the realm of hate speech?

    1. Maybe, maybe not.
      Now, if they had named it “Communist China Touch” that would clearly be racist and without a doubt hate speech.

      1. True, at least they didn’t have the audacity to call it “Operation Oriental Touch”!

      2. Maybe it would be ok if they called it a Wuhan Handy, or Wuhandy for short.

    2. The original name was “Operation Oriental Jerk”.

        1. No, but 3 stray cats, 1 stray dog, and about a dozen rats were found dead in the kitchen area of the building.

  7. Why does this sound so judgemental? It sounds like these officers are just living by your “different strokes” worldview.

  8. “Hands up!”
    errr
    “Get the handcuffs!”
    uhmmm
    “Talk to the hand”

  9. $128,000 in cash and around $30,000 worth of gold coins and jewelry were seized

    Shit, I need to give some serious thought to opening a rub-and-tug shop. I could use a side hustle in these uncertain times.

  10. I see an interesting side benefit of this kind of reporting: how many wives and girlfriends of federal agents are asking troubling questions of their spouses now?

    Federal agents had at least 17 sexual encounters with “Asian females”

    How many of these spouses are trying to compare the alleged dates of these encounters with when their man had a sudden lack of interest?
    How many divorces will result?

    And how many of the “Asian females” were Thai lady boys, and did the agents get to choose which side of the plate they were swinging from, or did they just have to grin and bear it?

    1. >>>asking troubling questions of their spouses now?

      wasn’t me.

    2. how many wives and girlfriends of federal agents are asking troubling questions of their spouses now?

      Probably not many. People who seek that kind of a job tend to be very controlling and quick to violence. I would imagine the WAGs just shut up and deal with it, because questions invite abuse.

      1. “Probably not many. People who seek that kind of a job tend to be very controlling and quick to violence.”

        What do you call 175,000 men to commit domestic violence on a regular basis?

        Officer

    3. If the wives and girlfriends never find out who was involved, then not many.

  11. ICE agents paid potential victims to make them orgasm

    Did they though? I doubt the client has to get off for the exchange to count as an offense. All the agents had to do was get the women to put their hands on their dicks, and they had everything they needed. Hell, just offering or agreeing to perform the act was probably enough to sink them.

    I’m not saying the agents didn’t avail themselves of the fringe benefits of the operation, just that they weren’t necessarily getting orgasms out of the deal. In fact, given the prevalence of performance anxiety among men, there’s probably a decent chance that a number of them didn’t finish off before they lost nerve and scampered out of there.

    1. They could also just flat out lie. No judge would believe a human trafficker’s word against a brave federal agent’s.

    2. Those poor men gave it their all and tried as hard as they could to get the job done. It’s a hard dirty job but someone has to do it.

    3. .. and then there’s the guys who kept volunteering for overtime. Nice way to spike your pension, amirite!

  12. “Operation Asian Touch?” *facepalm*

  13. Considering that the War on Drugs mostly involves punishing the innocent victims of those evil, evil drugs, why should it surprise anybody that the War on Sex-Trafficking mostly punishes the victims as well?

  14. “Not all of the massage workers that ICE agents visited would agree to sex acts. The HSI memos muse that this is probably because the women were on to their agents’ identities (and not that some of these workers just choose to not do that).”

    Yep, and if they don’t find drugs in your car it’s because you already used it all. But it was definitely there! See, rights don’t matter if literally every person investigated is definitely guilty even if no evidence is found. And this is why LEOs are never as respectful of rights as they think they are… because they can rationalize violations until it doesn’t register as a violation.

  15. One way or another, ICE will make certain these women that their arrests are helping are indeed victims.

  16. thanks homeland security, i feel safer now that your roid rage has been tempered by the gals you subcontracted your whack off sessions to.

  17. The law enforcers are the law breakers. And the doers of harm.

    As usual.

  18. It’s a hard dangerous job but someone has to do it?

  19. “The whole good cop/bad cop question can be disposed of much more decisively. We need not enumerate what proportion of cops appears to be good or listen to someone’s anecdote about his Uncle Charlie, an allegedly good cop. We need only consider the following: (1) a cop’s job is to enforce the laws, all of them; (2) many of the laws are manifestly unjust, and some are even cruel and wicked; (3) therefore every cop has agreed to act as an enforcer for laws that are manifestly unjust or even cruel and wicked. There are no good cops.” ~Robert Higgs

  20. There ought to be a constitutional amendment that the state cannot withdraw from prosecuting a criminal case. If they heck up and file a bad charge being allowed to drop it in order to escape getting the book thrown at them is unacceptable.

  21. This renewed war on prostitution (under the banner of “fighting sex trafficking”) is getting uglier and uglier. Not exactly happy with Trump that he got the federal government further into it either.

    For fuck’s sake, a majority of Americans are now for decriminalization. And our elected officials and law enforcement are at full-throttle war with this thing. Yeah, go ahead, fuck with poor people’s livelihoods more and more now we’re in a depression. Very smart!

    1. The police-prison-industrial complex has to have some scourge to fight, with the war on drugs winding down and cutting into their revenue.

    2. Since Libertarian spoiler votes handed the First Amendment real clout, faith-based community asset forfeiture and christianofascist klanbakes have had to go _somewhere_ for their money shots, right? 99% opposition to the extortion changes nothing, but 2% VOTING Libertarian changes everything. Voting LP is like effective demand. It sends a clear signal–especially to the looter who just got unseated by a less violent looter thanks to our spoiler votes. JFK beat the Military-Industrial Complex by 0.17%

  22. What I can’t understand is why HSA and ICE agents admitted to having sex with these asian women when local sheriff departments routinely do the same with not only local DA’s refusing to follow up on credible accusations, but a local media that will bend over backwards to ensure these credible allegations of undercover cops having sex with asian never see the light of day.

    Case in point, In a similar sex sting operation in King County Washington in 2016, one of the convicted brothel owners (Donald Mueller) stated in his testimony that the lead detective Luke Hillman regularly had sex with the asian women he claimed he was “saving” during the 10 month investigation that continued until they ran out of STOP grant overtime money and declared the entire thing a sex trafficking operation. According to Mueller, the women even referred to Hillman as “quick release Luke.”
    Despite all this, DA Dan Sattterberg and the head of the criminal division Mark Larson not only refused to investigate and charge Luke, but celebrated him as a local hero. The Seattle Times spent close to an entire paragraph in an expose on this event justifying how Luke Hillman did not have had sex with these women over that 10 month period despite clear evidence that he did just that.

    My advice to ICE and HSA agents who want to rape sex workers with impunity is to go to work for a corrupt local DA. They will not only not charge you for raping sex workers under the Nordic Model, but will celebrate you as a hero while local media works overtime to cover your tracks.

  23. “Local cops decided these businesses were likely human-trafficking fronts after learning that all of the masseuses were Asian women.”

    In other news, law enforcement went on to suspect a near by residence of being a crack house because a black family lived there and another residence of being a child exploitation spot because a homosexual lived there.

    I think we already accept that law enforcement and prosecutors are motivated by 18th century level rank bigotry that would make a clan member blush, but when did they become so obvious about it with a public that does not seem to see the problem with this type of thinking?
    I though as a society we all accepted small minded bigotry and racists within law enforcement as long as they made their disgusting behavior acceptable through a cover like “broken windows” theory?

  24. The way the article started, it sounded like the local cops arrested the federal agents, as they should have. But no.

  25. Face it, this is the sort of hands-on policing we need.

  26. “….as a result, applications for Federal VICE jobs have skyrocketed.
    Candidates noted that it’s the first job opportunity that offered both great benefits and hand jobs…”

  27. I believe the exact technical term is seed money.

  28. I was hoping this story had a happy ending. I am disappoint :o(

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  30. Great work fellows!
    So, when are you going to address these tranny freaks on Bourbon Street in New Orleans?

  31. Vice cops are the scum that scum scrape off their shoes.

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