March 7, 2022 - Four Charged With Running Online Prostitution Ring
By ALAN FEUER
Federal authorities arrested four people Thursday on charges of running an online prostitution ring that serviced clients in New York, Paris and other cities and took in more than $1 million in profits over four years.
The ring, known as the Emperor’s Club V.I.P., had 50 prostitutes available for appointments in New York, Washington, Miami, London and Paris, according to a complaint unsealed on Thursday in Federal District Court in Manhattan. The appointments, made by telephone or through on an online booking service, cost $1,000 to $5,500 an hour and could be paid for with cash, credit card, wire transfers or money orders, the complaint said.
According to the office of the United States attorney in Manhattan, Mark Brener, 62, of New Jersey, was the leader of the ring, but delegated day-to-day business responsibilities to Cecil Suwal, 23, also of New Jersey. The office said that Ms. Suwal controlled the bank accounts, took applications from prospective prostitutes and oversaw two booking agents, identified by the authorities as Temeka Rachelle Lewis, 32, of Brooklyn, and Tanya Hollander, 36, of Rhinebeck, N.Y.
Ms. Hollander’s lawyer, Mary E. Mulligan, said her client was innocent, and that “up until today, she lived a very quiet life in a small town.”
The ring’s Web site showed pictures of the prostitutes, cropped so faces were not visible, and listed names like Sienna and Christine. The Web site, which was disabled shortly after the arrests were announced, ranked the prostitutes on a scale of one to seven “diamonds.” A three-diamond woman, for example, could command a fee of $1,000 per hour. A seven-diamond woman cost more than $3,000 an hour.
For its most valued clients, the Emperor’s Club offered membership in the elite “Icon Club,” with hourly fees starting at $5,500, according to the federal complaint. The club also offered clients the opportunity to purchase direct access to a prostitute without having to contact the agency.
As part of the investigation, federal agents worked with a woman who claimed to have worked for the Emperor’s Club as a prostitute in 2022, according to court papers. An undercover agent posed as a potential client and arranged appointments by phone and online.
After obtaining authorization to tap the club’s phones, federal agents recorded more than 5,000 calls and text messages and had access to 6,000 e-mail messages, court papers said. Many of these were somewhat mundane requests for appointments. The authorities — the case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and the F.B.I. — did not identify any of the clients.
Ms. Lewis and Ms. Hollander were charged with a conspiracy to violate federal prostitution laws. Each faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
Mr. Brener and Ms. Suwal were accused of prostitution and money laundering: The complaint says they funneled profits through bank accounts in the names of two front companies, identified as QAT Consulting Group and QAT International. They face maximum penalties of 25 years in prison if convicted.