Defense attorneys believe they won an important victory Thursday against a major investigation into eight suspected Spokane-area brothels that several months later has yet to produce a single criminal charge.
Attorneys Mark Vovos and Carl Oreskovich convinced Superior Court Judge James Triplet to order the return of thousands of dollars of cash and property that was seized from two owners of massage parlors that were raided last summer as part of Operation Red Light. While their clients were initially taken into custody for allegedly promoting prostitution and money laundering, prosecutors have not filed any formal charges.
“The government doesn’t have the right to sit on it … and deny my client her right to the Fourth Amendment protection to be free of illegal search and seizure,” Oreskovich said. “We are asking the court to release the property seized on July 10.”
The attorneys requested the Airway Heights police, state and federal agents to return bank accounts, a car, a home and even a wedding ring seized from Yong C. Kassim, 62, and 68-year-old Chin S. Day.
Kassim and Day were arrested separately during a raid July 10 of eight suspected brothels by Airway Heights police and state and federal agents. The raids were part of an investigation that began in 2011 into suspected prostitution activity at Northern Quest Casino and Resort.
Kassim was the owner of Joe Jean’s Oriental Health Spa at 2712 N. Division St., and Day was the co-owner of Oriental Spa North at 827 E. Francis Ave.
Complicating the criminal case is the fact that Spokane County prosecutors sought judicial approval to conduct a special inquiry, which is a rare form of investigation that allows detectives to conduct search warrants and gather evidence in secret prior to filing formal charges.
Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor John Grasso said he was bound by state law to keep quiet about that special inquiry, even to the judge.
“I am not able to make a comment. I can’t even discuss the procedure,” Grasso told Triplet. “This may not be the proper court to hear this motion.”
Later in the day, Airway Heights Police Chief Lee Bennett said he called for the removal of the special inquiry status, triggering the release of hundreds of names of people whose credit card charges were on file at those businesses.
As a result, Bennett believes the property will not be returned now that the case files became open.
Calls to Prosecutor Steve Tucker and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll were not immediately returned late Thursday.
But both Vovos and Oreskovich said the judge’s ruling stands despite any move to open the case files.
“We will now closely scrutinize what information was provided, or not provided, to the judge who issued the warrants to see exactly how an allegation of a crime occurring in the last two years can justify the seizure of assets that were acquired decades earlier,” Oreskovich said.