By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
As Denver's economy finally gained momentum after the deep slump of the '80s, a group of hardy entrepreneurs set to work building an empire.
The budding capitalists were all young women. For the most part, they were also foreigners, having only recently immigrated to this country from Korea; a few of them didn't speak English particularly well. But they'd been working in their field for years, and they seemed to have a knack for numbers.
Within a few years, the business had expanded to four outlets. Between 1993 and 1994, revenues jumped 350 percent. According to a partner, one of the women was taking home about $25,000 per month.
They started accumulating the adornments of wealth. They drove late-model Mercedes-Benzes. They purchased houses near each other in Cherry Hills Village and Greenwood Village, some of the most exclusive and expensive addresses in the metro area. One woman bought a mansion in Monument; after renovations and improvements, assessors pegged its value at close to half a million dollars.
With the money they earned in their core businesses, the enterprising young women diversified, investing in commercial real estate. In December 1994, one of them purchased a shopping mall in Colorado Springs. She closed the deal with a flourish, paying the $326,248 asking price in cash. Two years later, when she sold the mall for just under $600,000, it became obvious that this woman had a well-developed nose for real estate, too.
Yet that deal also marked the beginning of the end, and the regulators who had been following the women at a distance began closing in. In 1996, following several close calls, they finally caught up. Suddenly, after a brief but spectacular million-dollar run, the women were out of business.
Police officers first encountered Kwang Suk Campbell Walker in the late 1970s. At that time, they say, she was identified as a prostitute, though never charged as one. Although she was arrested later -- on several occasions, it seems -- she never spent much, if any, time in jail.
Indeed, in Walker's case, at least, the crime of prostitution did pay. Walker, who is known among her friends as Sookie, is in custody now. She was arrested late this summer in Canada, nearly four full years after she was charged with running a prostitution ring in Denver. On November 10, after spending a month in a holding facility in Castle Rock, she was transferred to a federal correctional institution in California.
The federal investigation that eventually nabbed Sookie required the efforts of a half-dozen officers. It chewed up thousands of man-hours and spanned several states and two countries. But Walker will spend only eighteen months in prison -- if that -- and her sentence does not reflect the dozens of prostituting and racketeering charges originally filed against her.
Meanwhile, Sookie's husband, James Walker, whom police accused of helping her run the ring, has already completed his fifteen months in prison -- mostly for tax evasion, however. Today he delivers Schwann ice cream and pays back the IRS at the rate of $150 a month. It will take him 97 years to fully repay his debt to society, calculated at about $175,000 in missed taxes. His parole officer stops by occasionally to check on him, but otherwise, he and his son - Sookie's child -- lead lives unmolested by the law.
Various law-enforcement agencies collected money and assets taken from the prostitution ring through forfeiture laws. Arapahoe County cops, for instance, still work out on equipment seized from one of Kwang Suk Walker's "health clubs." A few months ago, one of the Cherry Hills Village houses was finally sold, and the federal government pocketed the profit.
Most of the properties, however, were returned to various banks. And nearly half a million dollars in cash has disappeared.
Even the police who spent weeks and months trying to catch her concede that, in many ways, Kwang Suk Campbell Walker is an astute businesswoman. In all of her spas, she permitted her girls to charge whatever they could get for their services. The women actually doing the work would then keep 40 percent of the fee, with the remaining 60 percent going to Sookie.
The system gave the women an incentive to bargain hard according to the appearance and demeanor of their johns. It also meant that prices varied widely. One man reported paying $280 for masturbation, though others paid less. But it all added up.
Sookie's first massage parlor targeted by local police was a spa on South Broadway. It came to the cops' attention in the late 1980s, either through a customer complaint or when police took notice of its advertisements in the Oyster, a local sex paper. "We used to go through all the Oyster ads and divvy them up by phone number," one cop recalls.
As with all of Sookie's shops, this spa seemed to feature masturbation services and nothing else. Although this was a narrow focus, the money was extremely good; apparently it paid to specialize. Some customers were steadies. "When we were staking out her place on South Broadway, around 1989," one cop recalls, "there was a customer who came in every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He would dump $300 to $400 per night."