Prison Cell

Two Bellevue brothel owners sentenced to jail

One of the men behind the brothels shut down in Bellevue earlier this year was sentenced to three months in jail on Aug. 19. He is the second brothel owner busted in January to be convicted.

One of the men behind the brothels shut down in Bellevue earlier this year was sentenced to three months in jail on Aug. 19. He is the second brothel owner busted in January to be convicted.

Michael Durnal, 47, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 120 days in King County Jail for promoting prostitution. He was one of four brothel owners and more than 16 men who were investigated and arrested in the culmination of a sex solicitation investigation by the Bellevue Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office.

The nearly year-long investigation uncovered a dozen apartments in Bellevue that were used as brothels, as well as multiple websites and a private organization of men who solicited sex online.

Durnal was recruited by self-proclaimed human trafficker Donald Mueller. After the pair parted ways, Durnal continued to work as a brothel owner and “booker” for sex workers and offered to help an undercover police officer set up a residential brothel, according to court documents.

He also received services from prostitutes and estimated that he spent $100,000 on prostitutes over the last few years.

The women involved 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, according to law enforcement. If the girls did not repay the debts they owed, members of their family would be killed, Durnal told the undercover officer.

One of the rescued women told investigators that one of the other alleged brothel owners, Sun Hee Choi, “bought” her debt from loan sharks in South Korea and brought her to the U.S. to work as a prostitute.

“[Durnal] described this is ‘sad’ however it did not dissuade him from paying the women $300 per hour-long visit, during which he had sex with them in exchange for the cash,” a detective recounted in court documents.

After the investigation culminated, law enforcement also shut down a sex worker review website started by Sigurds Zitars called The Review Board. Zitars pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution and was sentenced to 180 days in prison on July 29.

In addition to jail time, Zitars and Durnal will both be on probation for the next 12 months and must complete a “Stopping sexual exploitation” class. A fourth brothel owner, Jabong Kim, was sentenced to 176 days in jail and 12 months probation on May 27.

Mueller also pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 16. Choi’s trial is ongoing.

In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Bret Chiafalo. File photo
Supreme Court says state can punish WA faithless electors

Justices: Presidential electors, including Everett man, must keep pledge to back popular vote winner

Gov. Jay Inslee issued new guidance allowing the resumption of self-service buffets, salad bars, salsa bars, drink stations and other types of communal food sources in Phase 2. File photo
Buffets and salad bars back on the menu in King County

Gov. Jay Inslee has revised rules to allow self-serve food areas in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening.

Bellevue City Hall. Photo courtesy city of Bellevue
Open seat on East Bellevue Community Council

Applications are due by Friday, July 24

Brian Tilley (left) and Katie Dearman work the wash station Friday at Kate’s Greek American Deli in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Governor’s no-mask, no-service order begins across Washington

“Just do not ring up the sale,” Gov. Jay Inslee said about customers who do not don the proper masks.

King County homeless count: 11,751 people, up 5 percent from 2019

One night a year, volunteers spread out across Seattle and King County… Continue reading

Free masks at the Bellevue Salvation Army. Courtesy photo
Free mask pickup for Bellevue residents

New dates and times for mask distribution this week

Nurse Sylvia Keller, pictured with Gov. Jay Inslee, is on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle in Yakima County. Courtesy photo
Governor doubles down on mask rules

Inslee: Starting July 7, businesses do not serve those who do not wear a mask

State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Politicians get pay raises, state workers get furloughs

A citizens panel approved the hikes in 2019. Unable to rescind them, lawmakers look to donate their extra earnings.

Construction begins for Downtown Park entrance

The previously delayed entryway project is expected to be finished early 2021

Most Read