Bellevue doctor suspected of promoting prostitution
A federal investigation of an Eastside anesthesiologist turned up a large-scale Asian prostitution ring operating out of Bellevue; federal prosecutors sue for forfeiture of what it says are ill-gotten funds.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation into an Eastside anesthesiologist who was making large cash bank deposits has turned up an international prostitution ring involving the doctor and his girlfriend, according to federal court documents.
The investigation into the ring, which involves young women from Thailand being sent to the U.S. to work off their debt as prostitutes, is detailed in documents filed by federal prosecutors who have sued the doctor to forfeit more than $9,000 the government believes are ill-gotten gains from the prostitution ring.
A criminal investigation is ongoing; however, no charges have been filed.
DEA agents earlier this year searched the doctor’s luxury downtown Bellevue condominium and a nearby apartment rented by his girlfriend, who agents say came to the U.S. from Thailand as a prostitute, paid off her debt from the move, and now operates as many as 10 prostitutes herself, according to documents filed in the forfeiture case.
The documents say agents believe the doctor, who works for a firm of anesthesiologists and practice at Overlake Medical Center, was helping facilitate the ring by leasing the apartments where the prostitutes worked and laundering the profits. The warrant alleges the doctor placed dozens of advertisements for Asian escorts on the website Backpage.com, often from a computer at the Bellevue hospital.
Addresses associated with those escorts were traced to apartments rented by the anesthesiologist.
The Seattle Times is not naming the physician because he has not been charged.
On at least three occasions, according to the search warrant, undercover King County sheriff’s detectives, working with the DEA, answered the advertisements and paid $200 for sex, but made excuses about having sex after the money had changed hands. Two of the deputies received nonsexual massages, and one said he was groped, according to the warrant.
The DEA said other King County detectives obtained photographs of the doctor and his girlfriend meeting outside a grocery store and recorded the woman handing over an envelope believed to be filled with cash. The warrant said the detectives were working surveillance on an unrelated case when they took the photographs.
Agents also claim they have two “cooperating witnesses,” both prostitutes who have agreed to help in the investigation for consideration of criminal charges they are facing, according to the warrant. One of the witnesses described the doctor’s girlfriend as a woman who lives an “opulent” lifestyle and who “seeks out” wealthy American men to help finance it.
The DEA began the investigation in November 2012 after an agent received a tip about the doctor making numerous large cash deposits into two bank accounts. At first suspicious of drug activity, the agent quickly found that the doctor had been purchasing numerous advertisements on Backpage.com, according to the search warrant.
The deposits were in addition to the monthly paychecks of between $20,000 and $45,000 for his services as an anesthesiologist, the court records say.
The agents also found that the doctor had transferred as much as $261,000 to bank accounts in Thailand with connections to his girlfriend and another person suspected of being involved in the Bellevue sex-trafficking business.
The $9,000 sought by the government represents money the doctor received from the illegal enterprise, according to court documents.
The doctor did not reply to a telephone message left Monday at a phone number registered to him that was listed in the DEA documents. A message left at his Bellevue-based anesthesiology clinic was not immediately returned.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, aside from acknowledging the forfeiture case, declined to discuss the criminal investigation.
The doctor remains a licensed physician in Washington, according to the Department of Licensing.
Mike Carter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-3706