Woman charged with money laundering in Mississippi

ST. MARTIN — A federal indictment charges a St. Martin woman with bringing people to Mississippi to work as prostitutes, and Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence said she was holding others against their will.

The indictment against Yeon Sook “Jackie” Hwang was unsealed Thursday. She’s also charged with one count of money laundering conspiracy and four counts of money laundering. The indictment says she brought people from California, Georgia, New York, Colorado, North Carolina and Texas to the JJ Spa, using it as a front for prostitution.

Jackson County Chancery Judge Jaye Bradley issued a temporary restraining order Friday barring Hwang and Hana Sanghee Bergeson from the premises of the St. Martin massage parlor, citing it as a civil nuisance. A hearing on the order will be held Nov. 30. The order came after investigators raided the business Wednesday and found four Korean-speaking women under the age of 30 living there. The raid was the conclusion of an investigation that lasted more than a year and also included federal agencies and the state Attorney General’s office.

The Sun Herald reported that Lawrence said during a news conference inside the massage parlor Friday that there was “certainly evidence some of the people were required to live here.”

The four women are now in an undisclosed location, an assistant district attorney said.

Lawrence said that state charges of promoting prostitution will be filed “as early as Monday.”

“This is organized criminal activity, indentured servitude and enslavement of people and it’s just wrong,” he said.

Hwang’s lawyer, James L. Davis III, didn’t immediately respond Saturday to a phone call and email seeking comment.

Hwang is scheduled to be arraigned Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Walker in Gulfport. Walker is also scheduled to hold a hearing on jailing Hwang until trial.

An affidavit by an investigator says that when police raided the spa, they found a naked man and a woman in the process of undressing.

Even though it was shut down Friday, men continued to arrive and test the locked front door. One man with a Texas license plate tried to get in while reporters were waiting for the district attorney to arrive and make his announcement.

Lawrence said investigators believe there are other similar operations in the county, after noting earlier this week there was an “abnormally high number of massage parlors in Jackson County.”

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