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.