International sex traffickers say prostitutes operated out of Skokie apartment complex

Members of an international sex trafficking ring say their prostitutes operated out of an upscale apartment complex in Skokie.

The ring was busted last May after hundreds of women had been trafficked from Thailand to cities all over the U.S., including Chicago.

The Skokie apartment building was used by the traffickers for three years, starting in 2014.

On its website, Optima Old Orchard Woods calls itself a premier location for luxury apartments just north of Chicago. Maybe that's one reason sex traffickers bringing women from Thailand set up shop there.

Kaethe Morris Hoffer works for a Chicago group which fights sexual exploitation.

“Prostitution also happens in really pretty places. upscale apartments, and upscale hotels, and it doesn't make what's going on any prettier,” she said.

The building's name surfaced in a recent guilty plea from one of 21 defendants charged last May in Minneapolis with running a nationwide sex trafficking ring. There’s no suggestion that Optima's managers did anything wrong or knew what was going on.

One of the defendants, a so-called house boss, admitted using "at least eight different apartment units in the Optima Old Orchard Woods in Skokie and Catherine Court Apartments in Chicago."

Prostitutes, she said, were typically trying to pay off thousands of dollars owed to the traffickers who helped bring them there.

“Their ability to remain in this country, their ability to be housed, their ability to be safe was dependent on their allowing strange men to do them what these men wanted to do,” Morris Hoffer said.

Another house boss admitted she kept a list of five-thousand customers in the Chicago area. That number doesn't surprise opponents of sex trafficking.

“A significant enough minority of men in our community, particularly in communities that have disposable income, think that it's acceptable to purchase sex,” Morris Hoffer said.

The traffickers who pleaded guilty said they maintained control over prostitutes by holding onto their passports and other ID’s until the so- called bondage debts were paid, and they used money laundering to move some of their profits through U.S banks back to the far east.

Just like Optima, there's no indication that management at Catherine Court Apartments was aware of what was happening.