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350 Ward Avenue's 'Relaxation Parlors' Hot Spot for Prostitution, State Licensing Violations

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN AND JIM DOOLEY - Jana was 15 years old when her neighbor and friend convinced her to become a prostitute.

The stunning young girl lives in public housing and says her family desperately needed the money. Her mother works two jobs and cares for six children and her father is disabled and unemployed. Jana has learning disabilities and believed she could help to feed her family, who she said often went without meals because they could not afford food.

Jana’s recruiter, who was just her age, turned her over to a well-known pimp who controls several prostitutes in Honolulu. She says he supplied her with “ice” – methamphetamine -- to keep her awake around the clock. Jana would have sex or perform sex acts with as many as 30 men in a 24-hour period. Her pimp took total control of her life, taking her to hotels to rape her when she was not working.

Rappongi Relaxation Parlor is located in 350 Ward Avenue in the heart of Honolulu's busy shopping and dining district

In an exclusive interview with Hawaii Reporter, Jana, who just turned 17 and is now off the streets and back in high school, said up until last summer, she worked at a “relaxation parlor” called Rappongi, which is located in the heart of one of Hawaii’s premier shopping and restaurant districts at 350 Ward Avenue.

The neatly painted, two-story white commercial building looks like any other on the busy street, with a nail salon, mail drop, sports bar and lounge and pet store on the first floor. A privacy wall along the second floor obscures the parlors’ entrances and signage as well as the occasional girl who ventures outside to talk on the phone or smoke a cigarette.

Jana said at Rappongi the “mamasan” collects $50 at the door from male customers as they enter the dimly lit pink lounge, and they are directed to choose their girl from a line up. Afterward, the girl would take the customer to a back room, shower with him, and then offer him “relaxation services,” which Jana said included sex.

Though she had been promised she would be paid well, her pimp never allowed her to keep any compensation. She was expected to hand over $30 to the mamasan for each customer, and give her pimp the rest. If she hid any money and was caught, that would be considered a “capital crime” on the streets.

Kathryn Xian, head of the non-profit Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said as many as five brothels have operated over the last several years at 350 Ward Avenue where Jana was rescued by law enforcement last year.

Golden Queen at 350 Ward Avenue has been the site of multiple prostitution arrests, but the business continues to operate

She knows of at least two females forced to work as prostitutes in the relaxation parlors in that building, including Jana and a woman who was turned into a “sex slave” at Golden Queen by a violent pimp, Joseph “Joe Blo” Vaimili.

Records released by the Honolulu Police Department to Hawaii Reporter show there have been several prostitution arrests since 2005 at 350 Ward Avenue in Golden Queen and Rappongi.

In 2005, there were two prostitution arrests in Golden Queen, four arrests in 2006, two arrests in 2007 and one in 2011. One erotic web site that calls itself "Rub Map" with the invitation to "Find your happy ending", says Golden Queen offers "Korean" massage for $50 an hour.

In 2005 at Rappongi, which is advertised on another X-rated web site as an "erotic massage parlor that provides a beautiful beginning to a happy ending," there was one arrest in 2005, one arrest in 2007, and two arrests in 2011.

Both relaxation parlors also were cited numerous times for licensing violations for operating without a massage, beauty or cosmetology license: Golden Queen has been cited 15 times since 2005 and Rappongi 11 times.

Pink at 350 Ward Avenue has been cited mutiple times by the state for licensing violations but has not been shut down.

Neighboring relaxation parlor, Pink, was cited four times since 2005 for license violations by the Honolulu Police Department.

Hawaii Reporter staff went to speak with the “mamasans” at all three locations last week. None of them would respond to in person inquiries.

One woman in Rappongi claimed not to speak English, but repeated several times after being questioned there are no “underage girls” working there. She promised to have someone call to answer our questions, and took our business card and contact information, but no one did.

The property under 350 Ward Avenue is owned by Victoria Ward Centers, a prominent Hawaii company that owns land under several shopping centers, theatres and restaurants in the Honolulu area.

A company controlled by prominent Hawaii lawyer Rick Fried has held the master lease for the building since the 1980s and subleases to a number of small businesses, including Rappongi, Golden Queen and Pink through his property manager, Nelson Jones.

Source: Honolulu Police Department (click on image to enlarge)

Fried said he leaves tenant issues up to Jones, but added, “I don’t want shenanigans going on.”

Illegal activities in the building are “obviously inappropriate,” Fried said, referring further questions to property manager Jones.

Jones said he was unaware of any illegal activities at the 350 Ward building now, although there have been problems there before and he has evicted other tenants in the past.

“I have over 50 tenants to take care of,” Jones said.

“Unless they really get out of hand, I will terminate the lease, but as long as they pay the rent, behave themselves, that’s okay with me,” he continued.

“If I have reports from you or anybody else that there’s illegal activities or the police or if anybody else comes in, I’ll terminate the lease right away,” said Jones.

The “relaxation centers” cannot offer massage services without a license from the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Records of that department show businesses operating at 350 Ward Avenue have repeatedly been cited and fined for licensing violations.

In 2005, federal agents and police raided one business in that building called “350 Relaxation,” arresting nine female Korean immigrants who were employed there and charging the owner, Wan Yo “Hannah” Kang, on felony charges of interstate promotion of prostitution.

Kang pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.

In 2006, police, federal agents and state licensing investigators staged four simultaneous raids of four relaxation parlors at 350 Ward Avenue, arresting six women on suspicion of prostitution and licensing violations.

A police major noted at the time that various agencies had investigated the businesses at different times in the past, but this time “we decided to pool our resources,” according to a Honolulu Advertiser news story.

In 2007, Honolulu Police Department officers raided Golden Queen twice in nice months, according to a Hawaii News Now report.

While local and federal law enforcement have made several busts at 350 Ward Avenue in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011, according to police records and personal stories, the relaxation parlors continue to operate openly.

See related story: Vaimili Case Exposes Ugly, Violent World of Sex Trafficking in Honolulu

See related video:

Short URL: http://www.hawaiireporter.com/?p=46611

13 Comments for “350 Ward Avenue's 'Relaxation Parlors' Hot Spot for Prostitution, State Licensing Violations”

  1. Nice report on your part but SO WHAT! They've been operating for years and, despite the busts, neither HPD nor the Massage Board has been able to shut them down. They will continue to operate as they please and nobody will do any thing about it.

    • Nobody should do anything about it. The report emphasizes two incidents of coercion that are conspicous for their rarity. 99.9% of cases there is no trafficking or coercion. The women are there of their own free will. Live and let live. But religious prudes and militant feminists cannot do that.

  2. Hawaii Reporter, have you visited those Chinese so-called massage places in the Century Center yet? You're in for a treat.

  3. This article is ideological propaganda masquerading as investigative journalism. The motives of the reporters are informed not so much by concerns of coercion and trafficking but by relgious and / or militiant feminist opposition to commercial sex, even if such sex is between consenting adults. Only two cases of coercion with pimps, both involving either a local girl or a prostitute from the mainland, could be cited. Anyone who has done any online investigation or in person investigation of so called Asian massage parlors or relaxation places in Honolulu would know that local or mainland women, who may have pimps, and who work at these places are very rare. And the same investigation would show that Korean and other Asian women who work at these places are there of their own free will, and making a very good living. But the lack of cases of trafficking or coercion does not seem to deter the reporters from their advocacy enthusiasm. In fact, I get the impression that the reporters would be more happy to find more rather than fewer cases of coercion and trafficking, as less evidence of coercion and trafficking would hurt rather than help their anti-prostitution advocacy efforts. This is a real shame. Any decent human being would be opposed to coercion and trafficking. But to grossly exaggerate the problems of coercion and trafficking to serve an ideological purpose is downright irresponsible and reprehensible.

  4. ForwardObserver

    Let's be honest sex sells newspapers. Newspaper publishers have long known that when they feature articles about sex they sell more newspapers. In the case of online publications they get more hits so they can sell more advertising on their website. Mr. Dooley is one of the best investigative reporters in Hawaii and it is a shame to see him use his talents to write these types of articles masquerading as journalism. Women selling sex and men buying it has been around since the beginning of time and there is no sign of that changing. Writing an expose about the existence of houses of ill-repute is not particularly newsworthy as those places have been around for a long time while the apprehension and conviction of a particularly violent criminal is. When a person who is not either actively engaged in either providing a sexual service or using that service makes money from those who do, we refer to that person as a "pimp". Mr. Vaimili was both a violent criminal and a pimp. There are some pimps who make money selling the services of the prostitutes who work for them and then there are other who make money selling newspapers that contain stories condemning them. Sometimes it is difficult to say which one is more amoral.

  5. FO, you are being way too generous to Dooley and his sidekick Zimmerman for just having a profit motive. I do not give them the benefit of the doubt. They are not mercenaries. Dooley and Zimmerman are TRUE BELIEVERS. They are the propaganda arm of PASS that subscribes to the "oppression model" of prostitution underlied by militant feminism. They pass themselves off as professional, investigative journalists but their motives and their efforts are the worst kinds of sensationalistic and yellow journalism. They are not objective and professional. They are propagandists. They are FRAUDS.

    They are shinning light on the Asian massage parlors (AMPs) not because they are hotbeds of coercion and trafficking, but because they are not. The AMPs provide the cleanest and safest situations for both the women and their customers. And the Korean and Asian women who work there in Hawaii are there of their own free will. But rather than being happy about this "good" situation, the reporters are disturbed and perturbed. The Honolulu AMPs go against the grain of the "oppression model" of pimps and coercion, and anything that undermines the "oppression model" must be destroyed. It is the "oppression model" that allows PASS to raise funds from the church ladies, and this model must be safeguarded at all cost.

    And along with the profit motive, the two reporters also share another trait with the pimps. The use bullying tactics and intimidation. They are so self-righteous in their cause that they don't mind running roughshot over anything or anyone in the service of their agenda. I have a friend who works at Pink, the nicest and kindest person you will ever meet. I go visit with her periodically at Pink's lobby to see how she is doing. She said the reporters brought video to try to film them, and the women had to run and hide. Had I been in the lobby at the time, there would have been a confrontation.

    As a libertarian I would love to discuss public policy about prostitution and other issues with reasonable people. But there is no point talking with Dooley and Zimmerman. They are aligned with if not part of PASS, a radical and extremist organization with an uncompromising militant feminism agenda. It is a waste of time to try to carry on a rational discourse with true believers with a messianic mission.

    • Interesting fake name, Travis Bickle:

      "Little is known about Bickle's past other than that he is a former Marine who served in the Vietnam War, has "not much" education, was given an honorable discharge in May 1973, and is 26 years old. He is socially inept, has few friends, and is suffering from insomnia. He takes a job as a graveyard shift cab driver to occupy his time. Working late at night in dangerous neighborhoods, his customers tend to include pimps, addicts, and thieves. He is visibly disgusted by them, and begins fantasizing about "cleansing" such "filth" from the streets.

      He becomes smitten with a woman, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who works in the local campaign office of presidential candidate, Senator Charles Palantine. He often watches Betsy from his cab, and finally enters the office with the pretense of wanting to support the candidate, and asks her out. They meet for coffee, and Betsy finds him odd but intriguing, and agrees to see him again. He takes her to a porn theater he frequents. She is appalled and refuses to see him again...."

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travis_Bickle

      • You talking to me? You talking to me? Well, I am the only one here? You talking to me? Well, who the F#@% are you talking to?

        Tanalee you can have my autograph anytime. But don't go trying to blow away Presidential candidates now, you hear?

  6. using minors for sex is evil.but prostitution between consenting adults should not be anyone's business.as far as getting "licenses" for massages,etc. is just gov't. extorting money from the public for revenue.

  7. I wish we could all find a way to solve this problem of prostitution. Nobody deserves to be treated that way. We need a better system and the world just needs better people. I read about the miracles of a massage Hong Kong, sexually inhibited people could really benefit from that. I wonder how many of them know about this possibility.

  8. A privacy wall along the second floor obscures the parlors’ entrances and signage as well as the occasional girl who ventures outside to talk on the phone or smoke a cigarette.

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