Detectives from the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team took a break from their usual routine of chasing area drug dealers to target sex-for-money operations in a pair of probes that netted eight arrests on drug and prostitution charges over a 24-hour period last weekend.
The Jan. 13 sting operations targeted a spa in Port Ewen where, URGENT alleges, workers offered sex acts for money and online prostitutes who were drawn to a Saugerties motel by undercover URGENT cops.
The task force kicked off the anti-vice push in Port Ewen where undercover officers allegedly received massages from unlicensed masseurs, followed by offers of sexual acts for money at Beauty Body Spa at 441 Broadway. Two workers and a manager were taken into custody. Later, cops obtained a search warrant and investigated the spa. The search, police said, turned up “evidence indicative of an active prostitution location” and $10,000 in cash. Two spa workers and a manager at the location were taken into custody. Hwa J. Park, 50, of Palisades Park and Shunyu Jin, 52, of Flushing were charged with felony of unauthorized practice and the misdemeanor of prostitution. Jin Sun Yu, 69, of Lansdale, Pa. was charged with felonies of unauthorized practice and third-degree promoting prostitution. All three were arraigned in Esopus Town Court and sent to Ulster County Jail. Bail for Park and Jin was set at $10,000 while Yu was jailed on $25,000 bail.
URGENT commander Abe Markiewicz said that the spa bust came in response to community complaints that the establishment, which was the subject of a similar sting last year, was back in business. Markiewicz added that the raid was part of a broader effort against criminal organizations which deal in prostitution and human trafficking. The groups, Markiewicz said, typically shuffle workers from place to place around the region to work in nail salons, restaurants and spas.
“There are all of these transportation networks of Asian workers, almost exclusively out of Flushing,” said Markiewicz. “They’ll spend a few weeks at one location, then they’ll be moved to another business.”
Markiewicz, who is trained in human trafficking issues, said the suspects in the Esopus case did not bear any of the telltale signs of trafficking victims, which include a lack of any identification or cash. But, he said, going after operations like the Esopus spa was one way to get a foothold into criminal organizations engaged in a range of illegal activity.
“The focus is not on the individual person, the goal is to follow the money or the connections back to the organization,” said Markiewicz. “That’s ultimately where we want to go.”
URGENT’s vice crackdown continued later that same day when detectives set up a sting operation at a Saugerties motel. Markiewicz said that the motel, which he declined to name, was not a known prostitution location. Instead, he said, it was chosen by the team for “tactical considerations” like sightlines and means of entry and egress. Officers lured alleged prostitutes to the motel by responding to online ads for their services. When the women arrived, they allegedly engaged undercover officers in conversation about specific sex acts and prices, before fellow team members moved in to make the arrests.
The sting netted four alleged prostitutes and one “associate” who drove one of the women to the rendezvous. Susan M. Gadrick, 21, of Hudson Falls, Shukura S. Turner, 23, and Shenade K. Griffith, 25, both of Schenectady, were charged with misdemeanor prostitution. Christina L. Dayton, 35, of Marlborough was charged with felony fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, misdemeanor prostitution and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. Police say Dayton was carrying 20 “decks” of heroin and three quarters of a gram of crack cocaine when she was arrested.
Dayton’s alleged associate, Aron Smith, 46, of Wallkill was charged with felony counts of third- and fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and tampering with physical evidence. Police say Smith was arrested at the motel after cops discovered a crack rock weighing over an ounce “secreted on his person.”
As with the spa bust, Markiewicz said that the motel sting was intended to address a larger issue than prostitution; in this case, drugs moving up and down the state Thruway.
“The prostitution is the lesser interest, the idea is really the nexus to the drugs,” said Markiewicz. “When you have prostitution, usually somebody is going to come with drugs.”