Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Alleged smugglers housed women in upscale complex

By J.K. Dineen
Staff Writer
San Francisco Examiner
Published: Sunday, August 7, 2005 11:08 PM PDT
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Young Joon Yang, the man indicted last month for allegedly smuggling Korean women into this country and putting them to work as prostitutes, housed the females in as many as 40 apartments in the Golden Gateway Center, a surprisingly upscale housing complex in downtown San Francisco, according to his attorney.

Tenants at the four-building, 1,246-unit complex overlooking the Embarcadero say they had noticed a big influx of young, non-English-speaking women over the past 18 months, as well as men frequently coming and going from the apartments.

Yang, a 37-year-old Pleasant Hill resident who is still in custody, was indicted July 1 for conspiracy to harbor aliens, sex trafficking, conspiracy to launder money and transporting women across interstate lines to engage in prostitution.

Richard Tamar, the attorney representing Yang, told The Examiner about the role of Golden Gateway Center in the case because he believes it seemed to contradict the federal government's allegations that the women were slaves. He said they were "free to leave the massage parlors at any time."

"The notion that the women were being abused or taken advantage of or exploited is ridiculous," Tamar said. "The Golden Gateway apartments is not a dungeon ­ there are no dungeons in this case."

Studio apartments in the complex start at $1,545, one bedrooms at $1,825 and two bedrooms at $2,375. Even assuming that most of the apartments rented were studios, Yang was paying more than $65,000 a month to the company.

But residents say the young women were often doubled up in studios and that johns would come into the building late at night, sometimes knocking on the wrong door. Activist Ernestine Weiss, who lives in the complex, said most of the allegedly trafficked women are now gone.

"They'd walk around scantily clad and these guys banged on the doors all hours of the night," she said.

Central Station Capt. Jim Dudley said he had received complaints from building residents about prostitution.

"There has been more activity in the building late at night and an influx of of young Asian women and strange men," he said. "Coupled together, these things make for suspicious activity."

Several tenants said management had been repeatedly asked about the suspicious activity but had ignored it. Fliers alleging that the complex had become a brothel were posted in the elevator, but were quickly torn down.

"They knew what was going on and they should have taken care of it," one resident said. "I think they didn't care because they were getting above-market rates for the apartments."

Resident Carlene Anderson said one of the suspected trafficking victims was stabbed and ran up and down the hallway, covered with blood and screaming. When a neighbor complained about it to management, she was told to "get used to it, this is living in the big city," Anderson said.

"As far as I know the management has never done anything about this," she said.

A woman who identified herself as the apartment complex manager said she could not comment on the allegations of prostitution, saying, "The privacy of our tenants is paramount."

E-mail: jdineen@examiner.com

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