Former San Diego Police Vice Detective Peter Griffin and three co-defendants pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday in connection with their operation of five illicit massage businesses in California and Arizona that profited for years by exploiting women to engage in commercial sexual services under the guise of offering therapeutic massage services.
According to court documents, Griffin, who left the San Diego Police Department in 2002, and codefendants Kyung Sook Hernandez, Yu Hong Tan, and Yoo Jin 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 finances of the businesses, advertising commercial sexual services online, recruiting and employing women to perform commercial sexual services in the businesses, and benefiting financially from the illegal enterprises. The defendants leased multiple commercial properties as storefronts, leased and bought residential properties to use as housing for employees, and secured credit card processing equipment to operate the illicit massage businesses.
Griffin, who is also a former attorney, 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. According to his plea agreement, throughout the course of the scheme, Griffin used the experience and skills he acquired through his work as a vice detective – and in at least one instance, his badge – to help the businesses evade law enforcement; thwart regulatory inspections, investigations and any official action against the businesses; conceal evidence and maintain a façade of legitimacy.
On another occasion, Griffin told an employee that he was a former police officer and instructed her not to “open [her] mouth” about her employment at the illicit massage business. Griffin also used 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. Through the course of the scheme, the defendants encouraged and expected employees to perform commercial sexual services inside the businesses and relied on Griffin’s law enforcement background to help conceal the criminal conduct. 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.”
“This criminal scheme involved illicit businesses that exploited a vulnerable population,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “We are committed to prosecuting the offenses that impact not only the employees of these illicit businesses, but the safety of the communities in which they operate.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and investigating agencies for their excellent work on this case.
“The defendant – a former vice detective who once took an oath to uphold our laws – knew more than most that illicit massage businesses cruelly profit by exploiting women for commercial sex,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are committed to prosecuting the proprietors of these illegal businesses, and to shining a light on those places where sexual exploitation and trafficking persist.”
“Peter Griffin misused the expertise acquired during his time as a vice detective and abused the respect that came with his badge – all to ensure that his ‘massage parlors’ operated under the radar for his personal financial gain,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The guilty pleas of Griffin and his co-defendants underscore the Justice Department’s commitment to holding accountable those who profit from crime, particularly crimes that involve the exploitation of vulnerable populations and the abuse of trust that communities place in law enforcement. This plea would not have been possible without the innovative and collaborative efforts of our partners in federal and local law enforcement, the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.”
“No one is above the law. I’m appalled that someone who once took an oath to protect our community could prey on the vulnerable,” said San Diego Chief of Police David Nisleit. “I’m proud of our own SDPD officers who helped make this investigation possible and I commend our partner agencies for their diligence in holding Peter Griffin and his accomplices accountable. This is an important step toward justice for the survivors of these crimes.”
“Investigating criminal activity that targets vulnerable individuals and communities is one of IRS-CI’s top priorities,” said Tyler Hatcher Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Peter Griffin and his co-defendants will now face the consequences of their almost decade long illegal business that took advantage and victimized women within our community. IRS-CI is committed to using our financial expertise to trace illicit funds and bring down these criminal enterprises.”
“Griffin betrayed the pledge he took to uphold our laws and to protect the members of our community through his egregious misuse of power and knowledge,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge John Kim of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “We appreciate the collaboration of our federal, state, and local partners to ensure that justice is served to Griffin and his co-conspirators. There is no place in our community for those who negligently prioritize money over people.”
“This trusted member of the community and his associates profited from the illegal proceeds of the commercial sex industry which is often accompanied by other forms of criminal activity such as money laundering,” said Chad Plantz, special agent in charge, HSI San Diego. “This law enforcement officer utilized his institutional knowledge of the job to betray the public trust. HSI will continue working with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to hold accountable those who profit off of individuals lured into this exploitative industry.”
The investigation was led by Homeland Security Investigations, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, and the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force, a regional, multi-agency effort led by the California Department of Justice dedicated to supporting survivors and holding traffickers accountable. The task force is comprised of numerous federal, state, and local agencies, as well as the Southwest Border High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
-Conspiracy, Interstate and Foreign Travel or Transportation in Aid of Racketeering
Maximum Penalty: Five years in prison, $250,000 fine
-Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud
Maximum Penalty: Thirty years in prison, $1 million fine
-Engaging in Monetary Transactions in Property Derived from Specified Unlawful Activity
Maximum Penalty: Ten years in prison, $250,000 fine or twice amount of criminally derived property
-Misprision of a Felony
Maximum Penalty: Three years in prison, $250,000 fine