Emeryville Police go undercover to help break up local sex-trafficking ring

3 mins read

The EPD posted a press release detailing their involvement in a sting operation against the former operators of Acucare Oriental Spa on Adeline. The EPD participated in a two-year investigation included an undercover EPD Captain that solicited bribes of approximately $2,000 a month from the establishment’s operator to look the other way in order to remain in business. The operation was suspected of generating upwards of a million dollars in annual revenue.

The operation, conducted in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security and other state and federal agencies, resulted in the arrest of four on 30 felony charges including conspiracy, pimping, pandering, bribery and tax fraud. What wasn’t clear is why it took nearly a decade to finally shut this operation down after the establishment was originally raided back in 2005 and how many woman needlessly suffered as a result of this. At least part of this being the difficulty in proving these crimes and getting witnesses to testify according to EPD spokesperson Brian Head.

The alleged sex-trafficking and prostitution at the former brick building on Adeline was first confirmed back in 2005 when the FBI launched a 400 officer raid on Acucare and other establishments as part of a larger sting operation called “Operation Gilded Cage” that extended from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. Acucare somehow resumed business shortly after and the “Open” neon sign stayed lit for the next 9 years. Conspicuously, it wasn’t until weeks before the scheduled demolition of the historic brick building that a second raid was conducted last June, this time led by The Department of Homeland Security.

SF Gate revealed more details of the sting operation in their story published today including details of how the operation worked. One of those arrested was Wei Kuang, the alleged doorman that buzzed in customers, collected the roughly $60 entry fee and distributed condoms. These “Johns” were then allowed to select a “masseuse” from a group of usually five women. The women would then negotiate further fees for sexual services, a portion of which was given back to Kuang. Kuang and the three others arrested were being held at Santa Rita jail in Dublin on $150,000 bail each.

The EPD Press Release:

The Emeryville Police Department assisted state and federal agencies in the arrest of four individuals all suspected of operating a sex trafficking ring out of the former Acucare Spa which was located at 3900 Adeline Street in Emeryville.

In March of 2012 the Emeryville Police Department was approached by the Department of Homeland Security regarding a suspected prostitution, human trafficking operation being conducted in an Emeryville massage parlor. The operation was suspected of generating upwards of a million dollars in annual revenue.

Emeryville detectives along with Special Agents from Homeland Security and Department of Justice embarked on a two-year investigation that would uncover a sophisticated network of human trafficking, drug sales, and bribery of a public official.

During the investigation, Emeryville detectives would learn how women from Asian countries such as: China, Japan, Philippines, Thailand and Korea would enter the U.S. through New York and Los Angeles and began working as prostitutes.

The girls were then turned over to the “operator” or woman in charge of the brothel. Rong Liu 37 of San Francisco was the suspected operator of Acucare.

Acucare had other day-to-day co-conspirators who are alleged of facilitating prostitution. They include; Jimmy Gong Lee 55 of San Francisco- boyfriend of Rong Liu and co-owner of Acucare, Tom Loi 59 of San Francisco- business associate of Lee and Wei Kuang- the on-site doorman for Acucare who introduced “johns” to the women whom they would pay to have sex with.

During the investigation, an Emeryville Police Captain went undercover to play the role of a corrupt officer willing to accept bribes to keep Acucare running. Lee provided thousands of dollars to Loi to bribe the Captain in exchange for the Captain to ignore the fact that the women did not have state certification to perform massages. This act by Lee would ultimately be his error and would lead to the brothel’s demise.

Over the course of two-years, Emeryville detectives and patrol officers, logged thousands of man-hours in investigation and surveillance that was provided to Homeland Security and California Department of Justice who used their jurisdictional powers to build a case against the four suspects.

In June of this year, the Emeryville Police along with Homeland Security and the Department of Justice and Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department executed search warrants on Acucare and Lee’s home in San Francisco. In addition to $69,000 in cash, guns and numerous Marijuana plants; evidence was located that supported the suspicion that Lee, Liu and Kuang were running a sophisticated brothel. In fact, for the last 25 years, Acucare had been investigated and raided at least one other time by the FBI but no victims were willing to come forward.

This collaborative effort of the Emeryville Police Department, working alongside allied agencies has ended a den of human trafficking; a place that rotated women every couple of weeks as if to keep the stock fresh, while being responsible for victimizing thousands of women from around the world.

Shortly after the search warrants had been served, the properties new owners had the building demolished. Currently a large pit dug for the foundation of a new apartment building is all that there is left of a once powerful criminal enterprise.

Further Reading and Resources:

4 arrested in sting at alleged Emeryville brothel | SF Gate
Four arrested in Emeryville prostitution sting | Oakland Tribune
Alleged sex-trade ring broken up in Bay Area | SF Gate
SF is A Major Center For International Crime Networks That Smuggle & Enslave | SF Gate
Bay Area agencies improvise tactics to battle trafficking | SF Public Press
Sex slave figure is sentenced | SF Gate

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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