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Three charged in scheme to traffic Korean women

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A customs inspector was arrested Friday for allegedly assisting a Long Island couple in a slave-trade scheme in which they tried to force at least two women to work as prostitutes at the Renaissance Bar on 154th Street in Flushing, federal investigators said Monday.

Nisim Yushuvayev, 27, of Flushing, was working as a customs inspector at Kennedy Airport when he allegedly attempted to falsely deport one of the women, according to the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn.

Court documents charge that Yushuvayev, an Uzbekistan native and U.S. citizen, entered the woman’s door at her Flushing home, displayed a badge and the victim’s passport and told her he was there to deport her for illegally working in the United States.

Yushuvayev then instructed the victim to get into a livery cab with him to go to Kennedy Airport to be deported, the complaint said.

Wun Kang, the lynchpin of the operation, was seeking to have the woman leave the country so she could not testify against Wun Kang on charges of unlawful imprisonment and assault, federal investigators said.

The Port Jefferson, L.I. couple, Kyongja and Wun Kang, were detained without bail on Jan. 23 on charges of forced labor. Wun Kang had pleaded guilty just three weeks prior on charges of coercion brought by the Queens district attorney’s office and sentenced to a conditional discharge, the federal authorities said.

Yushuvayev and both Kangs each face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a fine of $250,000.

“Every year thousands of immigrants are lured to America by 21st century slave traders who promise them jobs and a better life,” U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said in a statement released by city and federal officials who participated in the investigation.

“The reality is once here, they are victimized and forced to work as indentured servants and prostitutes,” Mauskopf said. “Human trafficking is an affront to everything we stand for as Americans.”

According to documents filed in the federal court in Brooklyn, Kyongja Kang brought the two women from Seoul, South Korea, to Flushing and had them work at the Renaissance bar to pay her a $10,000 “broker fee” for her help getting to the U.S.

The Kangs later increased the fee to both women to $20,000 and took the passport of one of the women to prevent her return to South Korea, according to city and federal investigators.

Court documents allege that Wun Kang also beat her until she lost consciousness because she had left the bar for several days without permission.

In September, four days after the assault, the woman reported the Kangs to New York City police.

Both women told police they were sexually molested by Wun Kang while they were living under his supervision, the complaint said. The women said other girls moved into the house while they lived there and as many as 15 other Korean women worked at the bar.

“There were girls coming every night between 8 and 9 o’clock,” said Nora Laube, a neighbor who lived next door to the Renaissance bar. “There were never men and women together. It wasn’t the kind of place you brought your girlfriend or wife.”

In July, Wun Kang allegedly approached the two women and told them they were not repaying their debts fast enough, according to court documents. He said they could triple the amount of money they were making through prostitution, investigators said.

When the women refused, they said Wun Kang threatened to crack their skulls, according to court documents.

One of the women said Wun Kang locked her in his basement for two days while he decided whether or not to sell the two women, according to court documents. Around the same time, the man allegedly kicked the same woman in the head until she lost consciousness, court papers said.

A month after the alleged basement imprisonment, one of the women went to the police after learning Wun Kang was planning to sell them to a Chinatown brothel, the documents said. Wun Kang was arrested and released, after which Yushuvayev allegedly became involved in the scheme, federal investigtors said.

When Yushuvayev arrived in a cab to supposedly deport one of the two Souh Korean women, she called a lawyer friend who told her that customs agents did not use cabs in such cases.

The woman then escaped the attempted deportation, according to court documents.

Yushuvayev had been hired as an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in June 2001 and had worked as an inspector with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection since March 2003. His most recent assignment had been at the Marine Unit at John F. Kennedy Airport.

He has been suspended pending resolution of the criminal charges.

Yushuvayev’s attorney, Oliver Smith, said he was assigned to the case Monday. He said his investigators were looking into Yushuvayev’s alleged involvement with the Kangs and that as of Tuesday, he could not comment further on the case.

The Kang’s attorney, Charles Ross, did not return calls for comment.

FBI Assistant Director Pasquale D’Amuro said victims in human trafficking cases are often placed in life-threatening situations in order to come to the United States.

“In this case, smugglers used a corrupt customs inspector to obstruct an investigation into their illegal activities,” he said in a statement.

At the Renaissance bar, the windows of the building are tinted black and the door is padlocked.

Laube said a sign for the bar that used to be lit up at night has been dark.

“No food goes in there, not even beer,” she said. “Whatever came here came at night in packages.”

She said Asian girls used to arrive at night in private cars.

“It’s a shame, we have a wonderful country and people want to come here,” she said shaking her head. “But the things they do.”

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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