Peter Griffin, 79, a retired San Diego police officer and former vice detective, attorney and private investigator, was sentenced on Friday to 33 months in prison and one year of supervised release for committing various crimes in connection with his operation of five California and Arizona-based illicit massage businesses that profited for years by selling commercial sex under the guise of offering therapeutic massage services.
Griffin’s three female co-defendants, Kyung Sook Hernandez, 59, Yu Hong Tan, 57, and Yoo Jin Ott, 46, who managed the different illicit massage businesses in Griffin’s network, were each sentenced to six months in prison and one year of supervised release.
According to court documents, Griffin, Hernandez, Tan and Ott owned and operated “Genie Oriental Spa,” “Felicita Spa,” “Blue Green Spa,” “Maple Spa” and “Massage W Spa,” located in the greater San Diego area and in Tempe, Arizona, between 2013 and August 2022. The criminal scheme included incorporating their businesses with state agencies, managing the businesses’ illicit proceeds, advertising commercial sexual services online, recruiting and employing women to perform commercial sex services and benefiting financially from the illegal enterprises.
“Defendant Griffin – a former vice detective who once took an oath to uphold our laws – is being held accountable for abusing his position of authority and, with his co-defendants, operating illicit massage businesses and profiting by exploiting women for commercial sex,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This case is an example of how strong partnerships among law enforcement agencies can combat the illicit massage industry. The Justice Department will continue to prosecute those who callously prey on the most vulnerable members of our society.”
“Peter Griffin used the skills he developed as a vice detective — and his status as a former law enforcement officer — to operate a network of illicit massage businesses and evade law enforcement,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Thanks to this multiagency investigation, Griffin has been held accountable for his nearly decade-long criminal scheme. This case underscores the department’s commitment to prosecuting the purveyors of these illicit businesses, who profit from pressuring their employees to engage in commercial sex.”
“Illicit massage businesses hide in plain sight in many communities in America, including our district,” said U.S. Attorney Tara K. McGrath for the Southern District of California. “Operators of these businesses often profit through exploitation. For years, Peter Griffin used his connections as a former police officer for his own criminal profiteering. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting these kinds of offenses, protecting our communities and ensuring that legitimate local businesses are not tarnished by criminal activity.”
“Peter Griffin abused and exploited vulnerable women by pressuring them into commercial sex for profit while taking advantage of his status in the community,” said Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Diego Field Office. “This sentence sends a clear message to those who mistakenly believe they can get away with such repugnant crimes. HSI, in collaboration with our law enforcement partners, will continue to work vigorously and bring to justice those who exploit and victimize vulnerable members of our community.”
“Law enforcement professionals swear an oath to protect and defend our communities, and the spirit of that oath should live on even when we stop carrying a badge,” said Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher of the IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) Los Angeles Field Office. “Griffin preyed on people who should have felt safer because of his presence. He and his co-conspirators failed in their attempts to conceal their illicit activities because of our special agents’ unique ability to follow the money and a strong cross-agency effort to find the evidence to bring these predators to justice.”
Through this scheme, the defendants exploited the employees, mostly vulnerable women from Korea and China; pressured the employees to perform commercial sex services; and made substantial financial profits from the illegal commercial sexual activity. When one employee initially refused to perform commercial sexual services, one of the defendants instructed her to “leave [her] morals in China” in order to “make the customers happy.”
Griffin, who left the department in 2002, previously worked as a detective with the Vice Operations Unit of the San Diego Police Department, a unit tasked with dismantling the very businesses he operated and promoted for personal profit. Throughout the nine-year criminal scheme, Griffin used the experience and skills he acquired through his work as a vice detective – skills honed by his education as an attorney and work as a private investigator – and his reputation as a former police officer to help the businesses evade law enforcement; conceal evidence; pressure employees to engage in commercial sex; maintain a façade of legitimacy; and thwart regulatory inspections, investigations and any official action against the businesses.
Griffin repeatedly used his status as a former law enforcement officer to falsely assure local authorities that his businesses would be operated legitimately. On one occasion, Griffin flashed his badge to a local officer responding to a citizen complaint regarding one of his illicit businesses. Additionally, Griffin told an employee that he was a former police officer and instructed her not to “open [her] mouth” about working at the illicit massage business. Griffin’s co-defendants similarly informed employees of Griffin’s law enforcement background and his resulting “connections” and promised he would protect the illegal businesses from law enforcement detection. Griffin also abused resources he had access to by virtue of his private investigator license to obtain information on customers and employees on behalf of the illicit massage businesses.
Anyone who has information about human trafficking should report that information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For more information about human trafficking, please visit www.humantraffickinghotline.org.