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Mount Prospect woman charged in national sex-trafficking case

Pantilla Rodpholka is arrested Tuesday by officials with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the Cook County sheriff's office. She is accused of being a "house boss" in a Chicago-area sex-trafficking operation involving Thai women. | Photo provided by the Cook County sheriff's office

About a year and a half ago, the Cook County sheriff’s office received an anonymous letter tipping investigators to a vast prostitution scheme involving Thai women working on the North Side and in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.

Now, a joint investigation involving the sheriff’s office and U.S. Homeland Security department has resulted in the arrest of a Mount Prospect woman on federal charges in connection with local sex trafficking — part of a larger, nationwide operation.

Federal authorities announced Wednesday that 17 people across the country have been charged with participating in the ring.

Pantilla Rodpholka, 31, is considered a “house boss” in the Chicago-area operation, authorities said. House bosses owned one or more brothels where the prostitutes, known as “flowers,” met customers who responded to advertisements on sex web sites, federal prosecutors said.

Pantilla Rodpholka 2015 mug shot | Police photo

Pantilla Rodpholka 2015 mug shot | Police photo

Rodpholka is charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and other federal offenses including conspiracy to commit forced labor. A tip to the Cook County sheriff’s office identified her as a “Mamasan” of the operation, sources said. In Thailand, that term refers to a woman who manages female workers in brothels and bars.

Thai prostitutes were brought to Chicago and other parts of the country and forced to pay the leaders of the ring for debts associated with their travel and housing, authorities said. The ringleaders would hold their passports, essentially making them sex slaves who could not return to Thailand.

The Cook County sheriff’s office worked closely with Homeland Security because the case involved passports and international travel.

An indictment unsealed Tuesday in Minnesota charged 12 Thai nationals and five U.S. citizens. Arrests have been made in Illinois, Minnesota, California, Georgia and Hawaii. Sources said the Cook County sheriff’s investigation into the ring is continuing.

The indictment said hundreds of women have been recruited to work for the prostitution ring since 2009. They would agree to pay $40,000 to $60,000 for the chance to come to the United States for a better life, federal prosecutors said.

The bosses of the ring would advertise their prostitutes on two websites, prosecutors said. They were encouraged to have breast implants in Thailand to make themselves more appealing to American customers. The organization also provided the women with phony visas and travel documents, according to the indictment.