updated 8/16/2006 3:26:10 PM ET 2006-08-16T19:26:10

A sex trafficking ring that smuggled Korean women into the United States to work in brothels has been cracked and 31 people arrested, officials said on Wednesday.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said 70 women were in custody for questioning to see if they were victims of the ring that trafficked prostitutes between brothels in cities including New York, Washington and Philadelphia.

Prosecutors said recruiters identified Korean women who wanted to work in the United States. Some were given false immigration documents while others were smuggled into the United States through Canada or Mexico.

“By the time the women have been taken into the United States, the women owe the recruiters and other members of the criminal organization a large debt, usually in the tens of thousands of dollars,” immigration authorities said in a criminal complaint.

The women were then made to work as prostitutes to pay off their debts and traded between various brothels. The brothel owners and managers kept a large portion of the money paid by customers and credited the rest against the debts.

“The women are in some instances told or led to believe that, if they leave the prostitution business before paying off their debts, they will suffer a range of harms,” the complaint said. “The women are sometimes threatened with harm to their families in Korea.”

Arrests were made in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. following a joint investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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