Call Her Madam
Business was so good that Kwang Suk Campbell Walker (above) was able to pay cash for this Colorado Springs strip mall.After James and Sookie Walker renovated this mansion in Monument, it was valued at $500,000.Ki Suk Grell, an associate of Sookie's who earned her own mug shot, owned an expensive home on this lot at 5080 South Clarkson -- until it was torched by arson.
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.
"As far as I can tell," recalls Phil Clark, an Arapahoe County deputy district attorney who helped break up the ladies' business empire, "the entire enterprise was limited to hand jobs."
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."
"It seemed like every girl would have a different way of getting the customer interested," says another officer who worked on the case for several years and admits that following the fortunes of Sookie became something of an obsession for him. "Some girls would just climb up on the guy and start rubbing around. Others would go slower -- say, offer to take her top off for $25, and so on."
"Her operation was a lot more subtle than a lot of the other prostitutes I've seen," this officer recalls with grudging fondness. "On Colfax, you get offered a 'lick and a stick' for $20, and that's within five minutes of meeting a girl. But these ladies would try to woo you -- bat their eyes at you and tell you, 'You're so handsome and strong,' when you know damned good and well you're not strong or handsome.
"And their places were always cleaner than any other place I've seen. It was, I don't know...different. When we finally busted the business, we found that one of the closets had a Buddha set up in it. There was a bowl in front of it filled with fruit and crackers."
Sookie was clearly the brains behind the business. "She was always very cautious," he says. "It was always her girls who got greedy. If it had been just her, she'd never have gotten arrested."
The South Broadway spa was next to a dentist's office. In the spring of 1989, it was placed under police surveillance. The cops watched the place for four to five weeks.
"There were a number of delivery trucks we'd see," recalls a former cop. "The drivers would pull over -- at that time it was unusual for trucks to pull over right on the street in that area. And they didn't have clipboards or any papers when they got out of the vehicle. They'd be inside for half an hour, 45 minutes, and then come out without having delivered anything."
Inside, the place looked much like a residential home. There was a series of bedrooms with small massage tables, several showers stocked with extra-thick towels, and one bedroom with a hot tub. But despite their suspicions that illegal activities were occurring, undercover cops had no luck getting any of the women stationed in the spa to solicit them.
Finally, a specialist from the Lakewood Police Department was called in. "He was a little bit older than the rest of us," the former cop recalls. "He looked good, and he talked good." On his second or third time in, the Lakewood cop was propositioned. Cops usually only need a verbal proposition to make an arrest, although some wait until a genital touch to seal the case.
The parlor was shut down soon after that. "Kwang Suk always tried to be kind of clever," one cop remembers. "When we shut the place down, one of the other ladies insisted she was the boss. But when you got into the paperwork, it was clear that Kwang Suk was really in charge."
This policeman remembers that Sookie originally was charged with pimping. The charge was later changed to prostitution, a misdemeanor. "You rarely see prostitutes spending any time in jail," he says.
Despite the intense scrutiny she has endured from Denver-area cops over the past two decades, Kwang Suk Campbell Walker remains largely a mystery woman. Even her husband admits to knowing only sketchy details of her past.
"I met Sookie in February 1990 through a friend," remembers James Walker. "As we got to know each other, she said she was from the upstate New York area -- maybe Utica? She also said she'd had a restaurant in Denver and that she'd worked for a car dealership here as well."
Now she was managing a hot tub rental business, she told him. That would turn out to be the River Spa, on North Broadway in Adams County.
The two began dating. "She was just a radiant person," Walker says. "A lot on the ball, very smart. Very business-oriented." In the fall of 1990, Sookie became pregnant, and she and Walker decided to get married. The ceremony was held in October of that year. Their son was born several months later.
If James Walker is to be believed today, he was either spectacularly naive or willfully so, for he claims that, at the time, he never knew the type of business his new wife was in. This despite the fact that in June 1992, he and Sookie incorporated together as SCJW Enterprises. They listed their business as the Blue River Spa, with an address of 7575 North Broadway.
Nor was that their only operation together. The couple also purchased a building on East Colfax Avenue. Walker says it was to be "a dance place, where a girl would go up on stage, dance, and come down. No stripping." The business apparently didn't work out, though, and according to Denver property records, SCJW sold the building in March 1995 for $91,000.
Much later, after federal agents arrested her, various newspaper articles reported that Kwang Suk Campbell Walker was "accused of running a string of brothels in Colorado, Las Vegas and California." Others reported that she "had organized-crime contacts and brought hundreds of Asian women illegally to North America to work as prostitutes."
Such enterprises aren't unheard of. Detective Constable Larry Chow, an Asian vice expert for the Toronto Police Department who would later become familiar with Sookie, says intermediaries recruit Asian women from Thailand and other nearby countries with promises of living the good life in North America. Pimps or madams here pay the women's airfare and living expenses.
In exchange, the new immigrants turn tricks to pay off their debt. According to Chow, the current price for a young Asian woman coming to America for this purpose is about $38,000 Canadian, or about $25,000 in the U.S. With rates of $120 for intercourse, $80 for fellatio and $60 per masturbation, he points out, the women must turn an average of 450 tricks to pay off their debt. Some of the women know in advance what they are in for, he says, though many do not.
Yet there's no hard evidence that Sookie took her business that far. Las Vegas police have no record of her on file, let alone information linking her to brothels in that city. Walker claims that his wife brought only a handful of people to this country from Korea, most of them relatives. Some of them worked for her and others did not. One brother established a nursery and landscaping business out of the Walkers' first house, on Northwind Drive in Colorado Springs. A sister attended the University of Denver with financial assistance from Sookie.
One Denver-area vice cop theorizes that Sookie may have recruited women to work in her spa from a bar outside of Colorado Springs that was frequented by servicemen and their wives. Some of the wives, he points out, were Korean women who'd married soldiers while they were stationed overseas. It was unlikely that their husbands knew where they worked, he adds, although it was also possible that the couples had originally met in an Asian brothel.
Walker says his wife only "had anywhere from three to five ladies working for her at a time." But even if she wasn't a major organized-crime figure, available evidence pointed to at least several other establishments besides the South Broadway and Blue River spas that were owned or operated by Sookie.
Police say that she appeared to have massage parlors in both Sedalia (the Oriental Spa) and Pueblo, although neither stayed open for very long. Links to Asian massage parlors in Fort Collins were suspected but never proven. Later, when federal agents ran checks on Sookie's phone records, they discovered possible connections with Korean massage parlors in Michigan and Georgia.
During his time with Sookie, Walker says, he occasionally heard of other spa businesses with which she may or may not have been affiliated. But he denies any direct knowledge of them - if they existed, that is.
One of the spas that definitely existed was the Rocky Mountain Health Club, which was located on South University Boulevard, in the Cherry Knolls shopping center in Englewood. As at her other spas, here Sookie was wary of new customers. Still, the health club wasn't a sophisticated front.
"Even though it was called a health club, there was no equipment in there!" recalls a cop who worked on shutting the place down. "A couple of our guys went in when we became aware of it -- you know, saying, 'We'd like to get back into shape and saw the new health club...'-- and then we'd say, 'But where is the equipment?' They always told us it was on order.
"Later," he continues, "we set up a 24-hour surveillance camera on the place. It was positioned in an adjacent building. I remember watching this one teenage girl with a cast going in, obviously hoping to do some sort of rehab on her arm. But she left pretty quick."
"People looking to actually join a health club were quickly ushered out the door," concurs Phil Clark, the Arapahoe County deputy DA. Even so, he says, shutting down the place was a chore. "They were good at recognizing anything but a flawless acting performance," he remembers. "So we didn't get anywhere for a while."
The Lakewood cop who was so good at impersonating a john and who had been used to break up the South Broadway parlor was again called in. After a couple of visits, he had his bust.
By then, Clark recalls, "They had the thing set up as a functioning health club. They had weights, bikes, treadmills. But," he adds, "the weight equipment literally had dust on it. It was obviously there as a front."
Cops who worked the case recognized the setup from Sookie's South Broadway joint: The girls would charge an upfront fee, usually about $40, to get into a room for a massage. From there it was up to the individual masseuse to negotiate a separate fee for the hand job.
A police officer who staked out the Englewood spa says that by 1991, James Walker would appear at the club almost every day. Eventually he would exit with a bag of money. Police naturally concluded that he was complicit in the operation, particularly when his name appeared on several bank accounts associated with the business. Today, though, Walker says he was merely a courier for his wife's business and insists he was unaware of what was going on inside.
For the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office, closing down the Rocky Mountain Health Club was only the beginning of its case against Kwang Suk Campbell Walker. For possibly the first, and certainly not the last, time in her career, Sookie demonstrated that she would try to fight back with deception.
As soon as it became obvious that the health club was going to be shut down, Clark recalls, Sookie and James Walker -- whom the cops felt sure were the owners -- apparently shifted ownership of the place to an employee.
"A woman named Ki Suk Grell was elected to be the sole litigant," the prosecutor says. "She was a minor player at the Rocky Mountain Health Club, basically there to do prostitution. She could never prove that she had any standing at all as the owner."
Grell's then-attorney, Rod Snow, recalls that his client was charged with a misdemeanor, which was quickly dismissed. "She was working the desk when the police officer supposedly received more than a massage in one of the back rooms," he says. Grell appealed the civil forfeiture case anyway. That appeal -- which the district attorney's office suspected was financed by Sookie -- made it all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Snow argued that the DA's office had taken too long to confiscate the health club's equipment and furniture, failing to meet the sixty-day deadline by several days. But in 1995 the judges decided no one had been harmed by the missed deadline, and they rewarded Arapahoe County prosecutors with the goods.
By far the most profitable of Sookie's massage parlors was the Blue River Spa. (Initially called the River Spa, after the place was shut down for several months because of building-code violations, it reopened in June 1993 as the Blue River Spa.) The spa accepted cash, checks and credit cards: VISA, MasterCard, American Express and Discovery.
The credit-card business would prove to be Kwang Suk Campbell Walker's undoing. In 1993, credit-card receipts traced to the Blue River Spa showed that $79,000 worth of charges had been collected from customers. In 1994 the amount jumped more than threefold, to $270,000. In 1995 the Walkers took in about $273,000 from credit-card charges. That was in addition to income from cash and checks.
Later, when police and prosecutors wondered where so much money had come from, James and Sookie Walker insisted they'd made it from real estate sales -- James held a real estate license at the time -- and other investments. If so, it signaled a remarkable turnaround in James Walker's business acumen. In May 1989, nine months before he met Sookie, court records show that Walker had sought protection under federal bankruptcy laws. At the time, he claimed $5 in assets.
The credit-card receipts also were at odds with the Walkers' tax returns. Internal Revenue Service 1040 forms filed by the couple during those years showed that they'd claimed less than $20,000 in income in 1993 and $99,000 the following year.
But all of that information would only come out later. In 1993, 1994 and 1995, the money that police claimed was the ill-gotten proceeds of thousands of hand jobs kept rolling in, and the Walkers needed a place to put it. "We're going to own a lot of property," one of Sookie's relatives recalls James Walker promising, and soon his real estate license was put to good use.
At one time or another in the mid-1990s, James Walker and Kwang Suk Campbell Walker -- or her brother or sister or an employee -- owned two houses on South Clarkson Street in Cherry Hills Village. They owned another on South Washington Street in Littleton and possibly several others. The neighborhoods are exclusive, with bridle paths wending through them, and neighbors took note of the high traffic volume at the homes. (There is no official indication that Sookie's associates ever worked out of these houses, however.)
In December 1994 the Walkers purchased a shopping mall on Carefree Circle in Colorado Springs for $326,248.78. An unremarkable single-story strip mall just off of North Academy Boulevard, today it contains a liquor store, a dog-grooming outfit and a handful of other small businesses. The Walkers apparently also tried to buy a nearby Bennigan's restaurant, although that deal was never completed.
The couple purchased a 7,000-square-foot house in Monument. James Walker says they'd decided to relocate to the town because Sookie was spending an increasing amount of time tending to her businesses in Denver while he was conducting real estate transactions in Colorado Springs. Monument, he explains, was a pleasant place in the middle where they could meet at the end of the day. "It was a gorgeous home," he recalls.
The money from the Blue River Spa bought other luxuries. In late 1994, court records show, the Walkers wrote a $60,000 check to Phil Long World Imports as a down payment for two 1995-model Mercedes-Benzes. A third German touring sedan had been purchased earlier.
Some of the money might have left the country. A former vice-squad officer recalls that Sookie was detained by U.S. Customs officials at a border station somewhere in the Northwest, when she was reportedly carrying several hundred thousand dollars in undeclared currency inside her coat. James Walker says he heard about the incident, but it is officially unconfirmed.
At one point, federal prosecutors claim, the Walkers kept track of more than a dozen bank accounts, swapping cashier's checks between them frequently -- clear evidence, they say, of money laundering. When local police and FBI agents finally swooped down on the couple, the cops located seven bank accounts in three separate banks under various names. One account was listed in the name of the Walkers' then-four-year-old son. Another held the proceeds of the February 1996 sale of the shopping mall, about a half-million dollars.
Keeping the accounts full never seemed to be a problem. James Walker says that at its peak, the Blue River Spa generated about $10,000 a week. "She always had money," he says of his wife. "How much, I don't know."
And how she got it, Walker insists, he never really knew. Sookie told him that she managed money for a group of Korean investors and that she charged a $50,000 per-person fee for her services.
When the Walkers acquired real estate, they frequently obscured the paper trail left behind by property purchases. Often, it seems, they used Sookie's relatives and massage-parlor employees to cover the path.
According to court records, Sookie's brother Jae Yeol Ra moved to the Denver area in May 1994. Even though he spoke little English, real estate records show that he was the one who purchased the Colorado Springs mall six months later. Six months after that, he gave the property to James and Kwang Suk Campbell Walker for one dollar.
In December 1994, when the Walkers decided to form a separate corporation for their property acquisitions, they called it Ra International Investments, FBI records show. The directors were listed as Jae Yeol Ra and Hyun S. Ra, who was Sookie's sister.
A half-year later, at a meeting of Ra International, both Ras suddenly resigned. In their places, Kwang Suk Campbell Walker was unanimously elected director and president. James Walker was voted vice president and director.
Other properties were switched and swapped as well. The Walkers quit-claimed their original home, on Northwind Drive in Colorado Springs, to Sookie's brother. James Walker recalls that Sookie purchased a house at 5080 South Clarkson Street, set on a magnificent one-and-a-half-acre lot. Four blocks away was a house owned by Ki Suk Grell. Soon after the purchase of 5080 South Clarkson, the women switched ownership of the two homes.
"I don't know why they did it," James Walker says. But no matter whose name was actually on the title, he says that Sookie generally put up the money for all of the real estate.
It is not clear how the effort to shut down Kwang Suk Campbell Walker's hand-job business became a federal effort. One local vice cop recalls sitting with other Front Range law-enforcement representatives in a series of meetings sometime in 1995 in an effort to assemble a complete dossier on Sookie and her ladies.
Soon after that, federal agents became involved; spokesmen for both the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver declined to comment on their role in the case. (Correspondence between local and federal cops suggests some tension between agencies. The FBI, for instance, sought the help of the Adams County Sheriff's Department to shut down the Blue River Spa as a public nuisance, yet the feds refused to hand over information they'd gathered during their investigation.) Because the credit-card transactions from the Blue River Spa crossed state lines -- the charges were wired to processing centers in Kentucky, Minnesota and other states before being credited to Colorado bank accounts -- federal attorneys were able to charge the Walkers with wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
The U.S. government's case was filed on April 8, 1996. Federal agents descended on the Walkers and Sookie's brother, Jae Yeol Ra. They quickly confiscated the cars and the bank accounts (the houses would come later). Although most of the bank accounts had been emptied, one of them, containing just under $500,000 from the sale of the mall, was seized.
Sookie fought back. Her accountant wrote a statement explaining how the Walkers' money could have come from legitimate means: real estate transactions and cash from Korea.
(Subsequently, they claimed that the federal agents were selectively prosecuting Sookie because she was Korean, pointing out that many such businesses existed without such vigorous federal attention. "Others similarly situated -- i.e., those running massage, modeling or hot tub business in the Denver area -- are not being prosecuted for federal racketeering and money-laundering offenses like those alleged [against the Walkers]," the lawyers wrote in a motion filed on Valentine's Day 1997.
"For example, the February 13-19, 1997, issue of Westword advertises such services as 'The Mistresses Lair, Denver's Premier Dungeon'; 'The Hide-A-Way Bath House,' featuring 'Exotic Bubble, Milk and Aloe Baths'; 'Lola's Lingerie' and 'Renee's Lingerie,' asking 'Why share your dancer with anyone else? Have you own private dancer!'; 'Intimate Encounters, Specializing in erotic striptease'; 'Great Massages Warm Setting'; '!!!HOTT & SEXXY!!!,' 'Striptease/Discreet'; 'FIRM & BUSTY Striptease All Areas'; and BROWN SUGAR Exotic strip-t by women of color'," the attorneys noted.)
On November 1, 1996, U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Daniel ruled that the government had taken some of the Walkers' property improperly, particularly the bank account containing the mall proceeds. "There was lack of probable cause to believe that the funds in that account were the fruits of a money-laundering scheme," the judge wrote.
Besides, Daniel added, "I find it unlikely that the defendants will liquidate their assets and flee the country." He directed prosecutors to return the cash.
James Walker says he and Sookie essentially separated in 1996, and they didn't have much contact after that. "It was more or less a marriage of convenience," he says now. A year after the federal indictment, Walker sealed his own deal with prosecutors. On April 10, 1997, he agreed to plead guilty to two counts of racketeering and one of falsifying tax returns. He was sentenced to fifteen months in prison and three years of parole. Earlier, Jae Yeol Ra had agreed to testify in the case against the Walkers in exchange for the government agreeing to drop all charges against him.
Sookie, meanwhile, had made her own plans. With her massage parlors closed, she'd begun working for Wendy's Bridal Boutique, a store in southeast Denver. Her trial date was set for April 1997. In early February of that year, she asked Judge Daniel for permission to leave Colorado to attend a convention in Las Vegas: the international bridal trade show that ran from March 3 to March 6. On February 19, Daniel granted her request, and Sookie exited the state.
Six weeks later, she failed to appear for a scheduled hearing. On March 28, a warrant was issued for her arrest, but Sookie was gone. Along with her, says Walker, went the $500,000 from the sale of the mall that the judge had ordered returned to her. (Sookie had also collected an extra $12,600 in interest -- a sum Daniel ordered the U.S. Attorney's Office to pay to cover the time between when it had seized the account and when the account was returned.)
Beyond missing out on most of the cash, the U.S. Attorney's attempts to acquire Kwang Suk Campbell Walker's remaining assets met with mixed success. James Walker says he stopped making mortgage payments on the Monument house after he was charged, so by the time the federal agents made a play for it, there was almost no equity remaining. It was returned to the bank.
Two of the Mercedeses were also returned to lenders. The third was discovered, abandoned, at the old Stapleton Airport. It languished for a time in an impound lot. "The local cops didn't know we were looking for it, and we didn't know they had it," says Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. The car was later sold at auction, with proceeds going to the Denver Police Department.
One year ago, the feds auctioned off one of the houses apparently bought with hand-job money, at 5475 South Clarkson Street. A large brick house with exquisite landscaping, it sold for $330,000. After the feds paid off the lender, $288,000 remained.
Although the house at 5080 South Clarkson was arguably the most valuable of Sookie's assets, it was not part of the government's forfeiture efforts. Perhaps that's because the property was in the name of Ki Suk Grell, Sookie's associate who had switched house titles with her.
Whatever the reason for the government's not seizing it, the house no longer exists. On February 11, 1999, it burned to the ground. Englewood fire officials and Cherry Hills police have since concluded that the fire was an arson -- and a clumsy one, at that. Accelerant was discovered along the walls of the building.
No one has been charged with setting the fire. According to Assistant DA Mike Knight, Grell has filed an insurance claim seeking $980,000 to cover the value of the house and its contents.
In the meantime, the property has been sold; the new owner says he will build a home from the ground up. "It's really the property I wanted," he says.
Kwang Suk Campbell Walker's whereabouts remained a mystery until late 1998. "She came into the picture when we executed a search warrant on about 39 places we had been investigating for prostitution," says Constable Chow, the Asian crime expert for the Toronto cop shop. That investigation had focused on a Thai national named Nick Nabangxang, who allegedly masterminded a vast network of Asian massage-cum-sex parlors in Ontario.
Although she seemed to be working at three separate places, Sookie primarily managed the Paradise, a four-room massage parlor in a commercial strip mall. "She appeared to be in the management level, probably because of her business background," Chow says.
"She looked like she was in her early fifties, very pale, a lot of hair, not very tall, very gracious," he recalls. "She was dressed up, well, like a madam. But she had a grace to her, like she'd come from a very good background." (According to the birthdate she gave police, Sookie is now 39 years old.)
In Canada's legal language, Kwang Suk was charged with "keeping a common bawdyhouse and living off the avails of prostitution." "Basically," says Chow, "being a madam." Unlike in Sookie's Denver-area spas, women in her Canadian parlors performed fellatio and intercourse as well as hand jobs. "Once they're into the other side of the law," says Chow, "they may as well go full bloom. It's the same charge."
When Toronto police arrested her, Sookie identified herself as Ki Suk Grell. She didn't fool the Canadian cops for long, though, and they soon discovered that she had been wanted in Colorado since the spring of 1997.
This past May, Sookie was extradited to Denver. On October 17 she appeared back in Judge Daniel's courtroom -- but not to face dozens of counts of racketeering and money laundering. Instead, the U.S. Attorney's Office had decided to charge her only with the relatively minor offense of missing her April 1997 court date.
Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the office, says that the passage of time would have made it difficult to make the case. "Witnesses would be hard to locate now," he points out. The lead federal prosecutor on the case, William Welch, had also retired after Sookie fled; soon after, he died.
At the sentencing hearing, Sookie cried softly and apologized to Daniel for leaving the state. The judge asked about the money he'd ordered returned to her; she declined to answer.
Sookie's lawyer, however, said it had been placed in a trust account where it was safe from government seizure. After that, he added, it had been returned to its rightful owners.
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