SANTA ANA (CBS) — Federal authorities say a Los Angeles man, his wife and ex-wife were the leaders of an international prostitution ring that recruited women from Eastern Europe to work in Southern California.
Mher “Mike” Hakopyan, 38, his current wife, 31-year-old Natalya Muravyeva, and his ex-wife, 43-year-old Alla Kassianova, have been charged of conspiracy to transport in furtherance of prostitution, Customs and Border Protection officials said.
According to case affidavit, the probe began in September of 2011 when two Latvian women were intercepted at Los Angeles International Airport while trying to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. CBP officers say that, under questioning, their stories included many inconsistencies, prompting them to refuse their entry. The women ultimately had to return to Moscow.
Investigators found that those two women’s tickets were paid for by Hakopyan, according to the affidavit.
The 10-month joint investigation led to trio’s alleged criminal enterprise. Investigators say the three used recruiters in Eastern Europe to identify women interested in working as prostitutes, then he would personally buy their plane tickets and coach them on how to get into the United States.
Once the women arrived in Southern California, Hakopyan, his wife and ex-wife allegedly helped them find housing and arranged for them to be photographed professionally. Those photos would be posted on websites like eros-guide.com, cityvibe.com and thatmall.com to advertise their services, according to the affidavit.
Prosecutors say they identified at least 14 women Hakopyan either brought to the U.S. or attempted to bring in to the country to work as prostitutes. Several of them worked out of an apartment in Santa Monica police identified as a brothel.
“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting vulnerable victims from ruthless profiteers,” said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. “International prostitution rings like the one alleged in this case span jurisdictions and have a direct negative impact on both the women involved and also on our local communities.”
Hakopyan and Muravyeva were arrested by federal agents and officers from the Santa Monica Police Department and appeared in federal court Monday. Both were ordered held without bail.
Kassianova remains at large and is believed be out of the country.