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Men cruised the hallway of an upscale Bellevue apartment building, checking their cellphones and scanning the unit numbers before pausing at a door that swung open even before they knocked. A neighbor grew suspicious and alerted police, saying she believed the woman living down the hall was involved in sex work. The email set in motion an eight-month investigation that revealed South Korean prostitutes were working out of a dozen luxury Bellevue apartments.
Many of their customers were members of a secretive network of men who not only paid for sex — in some cases scores of times — but would also write detailed online reviews of their encounters and encourage others to do the same. The website also accepted free advertisements from prostitutes.
One customer, a software-development director for Amazon, even helped construct and maintain prostitution-related websites. The Review Board, which had been an online forum for sex buyers since , boasted it had 23, members, most of them in the Pacific Northwest, in Kgirldelights, an online advertising and booking site for South Korean prostitutes built by members of The League, was particularly popular, with more than 4 million hits in a single month.
Together, the websites ensured the women in the expensive Bellevue apartments had a steady stream of customers — and that the customers had a steady supply of new women. But the bust also drew condemnation from proponents of the legalization of prostitution — and from some of the men facing criminal charges — who saw an overzealous government interfering with what they said was a reasonable exchange of sex for money among consenting adults. Several insisted The Review Board helped ensure the safety of the women selling sex in the Bellevue apartments because members developed an online identity and history.
When the anonymous tip about the Avalon Meydenbauer apartment landed in his inbox, Bellevue police Detective Ben Richey no relation to prosecutor Richey quickly learned that the well-visited unit was leased to Donald Mueller, a year-old former marijuana dealer. Richey and another detective arranged a meeting with Mueller at a downtown Bellevue coffee shop and told him they thought he was renting the apartment for use as a brothel.