Scranton, Pa

Law Enforcement Uses “Outrageous” Tactics to Police Prostitution in Luzerne County

Posted: February 16, 2017

According to the Citizens’ Voice, two women accused of running a prostitution business in Luzerne County in September 2016 plead guilty to misdemeanor charges for promoting prostitution.  Kim Young Suk and Jae Ryeong Kimnam ran the Ace Accupressure Spa in Larksville, Pennsylvania.  However, according to Luzerne County Police, the Spa was more akin to a brothel where the two women were allegedly promoting prostitution rather than providing spa services.

The media reports that after a lengthy investigation, the police used a confidential informant to conduct a probe on the business.  On September 1, 2016, the informant first entered the Spa with marked money from the police.  He was greeted by Suk who brought him to a massage room and then he paid her $60.  Kimnam—the owner and manager of the business—thereafter entered the massage room and told him it would cost $60 for her to perform a sex act; he paid her and she performed the sex act.

The Larksville Boro Police, Pennsylvania state police, and Department of Homeland Security executed a search warrant on the Spa that same evening and arrested the women.  They found the $120 pre-recorded buy-money the informant used to pay for the services along with more than $6,800 in cash and many used and unused condoms.  Suk, 54, and Kimnam, 48, both of Flushing, N.Y, were charged with promoting prostitution (18 Pa.C.S. § 5902). According to police, both women have a history of prostitution arrests, however, we were unable to locate any arrest records in Pennsylvania.

Both women accepted a plea deal on January 24, 2017, and were ordered to pay $345 in restitution and agreed to forfeit more than $13,000 that the police seized during the investigation. On February 8, 2017, they were each sentenced to four to twelve months in prison according to Times Leader.  Furthermore, they were ordered to split prosecution costs and refrain from contacting one another.

Because the women have been incarcerated since their arrests in September, the judge ordered them to be immediately paroled for time served.  However, they were both returned to prison following sentencing because of detainers lodged by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  With a detainer in place, the prison must keep an individual forty-eight hours “after his or her release date in order to provide ICE agents extra time to decide whether to take the individual into federal custody for removal purposes.”  Suk holds a green card and thus is a legal permanent resident but was still ordered to await a federal custody determination.  Kimnam, on the other hand, has no legal status in the United States, and could face deportation as a result of this conviction.

The CSE Institute is alarmed by the policing strategy of using confidential informants (CIs) to engage in sexual activity in order to build cases against prostituted persons.  The tactic of using CIs to conduct investigations into brothels has been used around the country and in Pennsylvania counties, such as Lackawanna, Lehigh, and Montgomery, for years.  First and foremost, this approach is troublesome because—as the CSE Institute has reported before—the most effective way to investigate and deter commercial sexual exploitation is through demand driven law enforcement tactics.  Yet, the approach utilized by law enforcement in this case fails to focus on the demand and instead focuses on using CIs to arrest the prostituted persons.

The CSE Institute’s concern over the use of CIs as an investigative tool against prostituted persons is bolstered by the fact that the Pennsylvania Superior Court has already identified this tactic as problematic based on the Lehigh County investigation mentioned above.  In the case of Commonwealth v. Chon, the defendant Chon—who was also the prostituted person—was charged with promoting prostitution after police used a CI to build a case against her, similar to Suk and Kimnam.  In that case, the police on four different occasions provided a CI with money to purchase sexual acts and one officer even admitted to explicitly telling the CI he could have sex.  On all four occasions, the CI purchased sex and the police then compensated him for his time, totaling $180 for all four visits.  Additionally, the police admitted that they laughed with the CI each time after the CI purchased sex.  Chon filed a motion to have her case dismissed based on outrageous government conduct.

The Court will dismiss a case for outrageous government conduct in violation of the Due Process Clause if the police conduct was “so grossly shocking and so outrageous as to violate the universal sense of justice.”  In the case of an outrageous government conduct claim based on sexual misconduct, “the defendant need only show that the government consciously set out to use sex as a weapon in its investigatory arsenal, or acquiesced in such conduct for its own purposes once it knew or should have known that such a relationship existed.”

Based on the facts in Chon, the Court found that the police committed outrageous government conduct.  Specifically, the Court stressed the “unprofessional laughing and banter,” the planned sexual conduct on four visits, the CI’s motives, and the overall lack of instruction and supervision.  Additionally, the Court referred to testimony where an expert stated that “when police officers act as [pimps], and they traumatize an individual unnecessarily, it’s outrageous.”  Consequently, the Court dismissed the case against the prostituted person due to outrageous government conduct based on the totality of the circumstances.

While the police conduct in the case of Suk and Kimnam does not appear to be as egregious as the conduct in the Chon case, the CSE Institute asserts the use of CIs at all to build cases against prostituted persons is outrageous.  The problem is two-fold.  First, the police, like in this case, provided money to the CI and, in essence, are acting as pimps; they are using “sex as an [investigatory] weapon” and subjecting prostituted persons to further victimization and traumatization.  This conduct, by definition of Pennsylvania’s own Superior Court, is outrageous government conduct.  Second, the CI used the money from police to hire someone “to engage in sexual activity” with him.  This act constitutes patronizing a prostitute directly in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 5902(e).

Despite any arguments to the contrary, using a CI in a prostitution probe is unlike using a CI to purchase illegal drugs.  In a drug probe, a CI purchases drugs and turns the illegal contraband over to the police at the conclusion of the probe, at which point the CI is no longer in possession of drugs in violation of the law.  In a prostitution probe like the one in Luzerne County, a CI purchases sex and then has nothing to turn over to the police.  Consequently, the police in essence is assisting their informants—who are also likely the demand—to break the law in order to arrest prostituted persons.

This act of law enforcement not only helping, but also recruiting, CIs to break the law is outrageous government conduct and calls into question the integrity of the entire investigation and subsequent prosecution.  Instead of working to deter commercial sexual exploitation, these officers are not only charging prostituted persons with crimes based solely on the word of someone who just committed a crime—many times without any independent confirmation of what actually occurred behind closed doors—but they are also sanctioning illegal conduct.  Furthermore, police are targeting individuals who often have little choice in selling sex, rather than the individuals who purchase sex.

In order to effectively decrease prostitution and maintain the trust of the general public, the CSE Institute discourages law enforcement from using CIs during prostitution investigations.  Additionally, the CSE Institute advocates for law enforcement officers to adopt the Nordic Model approach to policing prostitution, which focuses on prosecuting the demand—as the Luzerne County Police have done on two prior occurrences in May 2016 and November 2016.  Furthermore, the CSE Institute encourages police departments throughout the Commonwealth to adopt a victim-centered approach in the future by offering rehabilitative and restorative services outside of the judicial system to victims of sexual exploitation like Suk and Kimnam.

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