The league of sex-soliciting gentlemen | Inside the brothels, websites and exclusive club uncovered by law enforcement officials

An organization of self-identified prostitution “hobbyists” who called themselves “the League,” the sex trafficking site they frequented and a half dozen brothels in Bellevue were raided and shut down last week in the culmination of a months-long investigation.

  • Wednesday, January 20, 2016 5:37pm
  • News

An organization of self-identified prostitution “hobbyists” who called themselves “the League,” the sex trafficking site they frequented and a half dozen brothels in Bellevue were raided and shut down last week in the culmination of a months-long investigation.

“We all know about and how bad it is. This was like on steroids. It was much, much bigger,” King County Sheriff John Urquhart told the media during a press conference on Jan. 7.

During a nine-months-long investigation, the King County Sheriff’s Office and the Bellevue Police Department gathered evidence about a website called The Review Board on which members could post and read reviews on the sexual services they received from different prostitutes. They also gathered evidence on two men who used the site to advertise the services of women who worked for them. During their probe, law enforcement undercovered 13 individual apartments in seven upscale apartment complexes in Bellevue that were being operated as brothels and a private organization of men who solicited sex.

The women involved — a dozen of whom have since been rescued by police — were largely brought over from South Korea through a debt-bondage system in which they were required to work off their family’s debts through sexual service, sometimes servicing up to 10 customers daily, six or seven days a week.

“It is unlikely that many of these victims will say that this is what they had in mind when they came to King County, Washington,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said last week.

Unknown numbers of women were brought to the United States from South Korea. Once in the U.S., they were forced to travel from city to city on four-to-six week stints, according to law enforcement. The more popular they were in a city, the longer they stayed and the more frequently they would visit in the future.

Both brothel owners and clients used sites such as The Review Board to allegedly promote and facilitate the trafficking of these women, according to Satterberg. In some cases, that meant posting reviews and encouraging men to solicit certain women in order to have them stay in the area longer. Other times, men such as the League leader Charles Peters would allegedly use their extensive contacts with agencies and pimps to vouch for other members and help arrange services.

The Review Board had 14,000 members across the country, and police were able to make links between their case in King and Pierce counties to 15 states. A separate website the League created — — had millions of hits per month, police reported.

Prostitution in Bellevue is not a new issue and has been evolving over the years, a vice detective told the Reporter in August 2014.

Court documents reveal that the King County Sheriff’s Office first began investigating the Review Board and suspected human sex traffickers in 2007. Since the Bellevue Police Department’s vice unit was created in 2011, they have raided numerous massage parlors in the city.

But, law enforcement has long known that prostitution has been growing online and moving behind closed doors.

“(The apartment brothels) provided cover and concealment for their activities. Infiltrating that is difficult,” Chief Steve Mylett said. The public perception that prostitution is something relegated to large cities like Seattle is probably why the brothel operators chose Bellevue, he added.

Over the last year, the Bellevue Police Department began receiving complaints from residents of high-end downtown Bellevue condominiums reporting suspicious activity — different men frequently visiting certain apartments at all hours of the night, and staying for approximately 30-60 minutes each.

“It’s not as if I go out of my way to notice this pattern of activity. It’s right under my nose, and other residents have noticed it, too,” a resident of the Avalon Meydenbauertold apartment building told the Reporter in August.

It was complaints such as this, as well as the murder of Kittaporn Saosawatsri in March 2015 in the Avalon Meydenbauer, that prompted the Bellevue police to begin probing small brothels such as the ones allegedly operated by Donald Mueller and Michael Durnal.

A former illegal marijuana grower, Mueller told police he decided to change his “business plan” in 2014 and begin a brothel in a Northgate apartment after reportedly being approached by an unidentified prostitute to provide a place for her to see clients in exchange for a cut of the profits and sexual services.

Soon, he was raking in $1,500 per day and moved his operation to Bellevue, where Durnal joined him in his self-proclaimed human trafficking scheme, according to police. The pair allegedly acted as bookers, advertising the services of different women on The Review Board.

The popular sex advertising and review website was reportedly started by Sigurds Zitars and eight other men sometime between 2001 and 2003. Before it was shut down, over 23,000 members across the United States were using the free website, according to police.

Reviews of sex workers posted on the website described encounters with them — including many of the women working in Mueller and Durnal’s brothels — in graphic detail.

In one review on Nov. 3, a client recounted his initial attempts to communicate with a woman on her first day as a sex worker.

“Since it was her first day, I asked her if she was nervous. She didn’t understand. I tried, ‘scared?’ Out came the phone as I spelled it, s…c…a…r…e…d. Suddenly, a very pained look took over her face. I actually thought she was going to cry. ‘Yes! I scared!’”

Seemingly stifled by Zitars’s aversion to advertising Asian sex workers — whom he reportedly thought would draw more law enforcement attention — a group of so-called Korean sex worker “hobbyists” in the Seattle-area formed an exclusive club called the League.

It is unknown when exactly the League was first formed, but the organization grew quickly. By last summer, they had 50 screened members and promoted over 300 Asian sex workers on their public website.

Select users on The Review Board were invited to meet-and-greets with League members. A King County Sheriff’s Officer undercover detective who infiltrated the League reported that he attended meet-and-greets, posted reviews and showed his involvement in the “hobby” by asking the leader, Peters, to help him solicit sex workers over five months before being taken off of “probation.”

In their discussions with one another, the members were cavalier about their so-called “hobby.”

During regular meetings held in and around Bellevue, the dozen or so attendees would discuss at length various issues, including what methods/excuses they used to hide their activities from their wives and girlfriends, whether or not they were comfortable knowing a prostitute was having “bareback” (unprotected) sex with other clients and the details of their experiences with different women.

Many times the discussions were so graphic that patrons sitting at nearby tables would get up and leave or move to another table, according to an undercover King County Sheriff’s Office detective who infiltrated the League.

Many of the members reportedly made comments that indicated they were aware that the women they visited were more than likely trafficked and had no choice in working as a prostitute.

When one member said “it’s not like these girls choose to do this,” the League’s leader Peters reportedly responded that the girls were not the smartest people since they had made bad lifestyle decisions that led them into sex work, according to court documents.

Despite this, members of the League appear to have viewed themselves as gentlemen.

New members received a three-page-long Code of Conduct in an introductory email, listing agreed-to behaviors and rules.

Members were told that “‘no’ means ‘no,’” reminded to be punctual and that condoms and good hygiene were required. The Code of Conduct also referred to the price of sexual services as a “donation.”

“What is the benefit to following these guidelines?” the document concluded. “Continued access to the hobby you love … It’s pretty simple: kindness and consideration will benefit everyone.”

Police shut down The Review Board website on Jan. 5 and served 126 search warrants and court orders related to the case last week. The League’s members-only website and public website are also no longer operational, but were not shut down by law enforcement.

Zitar, Peters and the 10 other League members were charged with felony promoting prostitution. Mueller and Durnal were both charged with felony promoting prostitution, and police found probable cause for trafficking in the first degree and money laundering charges, although they have been charged with neither at press time.

The investigation into The Review Board’s clients and the trafficking of South Korean women is ongoing. The FBI and local law enforcement will be reaching out to the South Korean consulate to aid in the case, according to Urquhart.

While charges are not currently being filed against the scores of other sex buyers whose information was obtained during the probe on The Review Board and, they have not ruled out further action.

“We want to send a message to the men in the Seattle area who want to think about starting a website like this. If you are committing a crime of promoting prostitution by setting up these websites, by facilitating prostitution, we don’t want that to occur anymore and if you do, we will come after you,” Urquhart said.


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