Choonhwa ‘Pam’ Lee outside Brisbane Magistrates Court yesterday. Picture: Regi Varghese/AAP
Choonhwa ‘Pam’ Lee outside Brisbane Magistrates Court yesterday. Picture: Regi Varghese/AAP

Listen: CCC phone taps that caught brothel madam

DESPITE a police raid two years ago, brothel madam Choonhwa "Pam" Lee boldly carried on using her Brisbane Cloud 9 massage parlour as a cover for an illegal prostitution business.

But that came crashing down soon after disturbing phone calls were intercepted by the state's corruption watchdog as part of an investigation that led to the stunning downfall of Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale.

CCC detectives working on the probe into Ipswich council had received evidence triggering them to begin monitoring the 45-year-old Korea-born former hairdresser's mobile phone calls.

Just months before, Pisasale's former council driver had told detectives of explosive claims of having driven Pisasale to massage parlours, including East Brisbane's Cloud 9.

Those calls, obtained by The Courier-Mail, were yesterday described by a Brisbane Magistrate as the most "damning and startling" evidence in Lee's long-running criminal trial.

In delivering her guilty verdict, Magistrate Tina Previtera made multiple references to one phone discussion involving a "scared" young woman new to working at the illegal brothel.

The man, identified only as George, reassures Lee the woman "just needs time".

"It's just a shock for her. Always first day shock. She's only young," he said.

He later advises Lee: "When you have a new racehorse or a new dog you have to train them."

Ms Previtera described the call as "extremely concerning", saying Lee offered the woman no protection. However, Ms Previtera questioned whether Lee herself was a victim.

"I do intend taking into account that you are part of a bigger enterprise," she said.

"There is no evidence really, and this is one of the unknowns ... as to whether you are the puppet or the master. The telephone intercepts would seem to indicate you are more likely to be the puppet."

Lee offered no police co-operation and continued offending even after the first of two police raids in December 2015. She was yesterday sentenced to 12 months jail, wholly suspended, for knowingly carrying on an unlawful prostitution business from Cloud 9.

She was also convicted of dealing with more than $70,000 in funds reasonably suspected of being the proceeds of crime. The money was seized by police during the raids.

The court heard from multiple witnesses offered sex services at Cloud 9.

One of those incredibly went to the police himself to complain he had received "bad service".

He told the court Lee had provided him a "naked massage, a blow job and a hand job for which he paid her. But he complained the service was bad as Lee "out of the mood".

 

CUSTOMERS, SEX TOYS AND HIDDEN CASH

The same Cloud 9 client told the court he had been a customer of the waxing and massage salon throughout the two year period Lee was convicted over.

He said he had known Lee for about seven years, and had visited Cloud 9 about once a month because he liked "that the girls who worked there offered extra services, that is sexual related services," Ms Previtera told the court in explaining her guilty verdict yesterday.

The man was told a hand job cost $50, a naked service $100, a blow job $50 and $50 for the "other sex thing", which he understood to be sexual intercourse.

He told the court he had sexual intercourse at Cloud 9 once, Ms Previtera said.

Ms Previtera described as "incredible" that the man had gone to the police complaining that he had not received what he had "not got what he paid for".

He had nothing to gain from the act, which she described as "so surprising a response as to be incredible".

 

Former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale
Former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale

 

Not only did he risk being denied Cloud 9 services, but faced being charged by police himself.

She said the man had told the court that when he had complained to Lee she had made "racist comments which pissed him off".

"He had previously complained to Pam about paying the girls for a service which he did not receive," she continued.

He told the court that Lee had responded to his complaint by saying: "She is a new girl, don't worry about it."

The court also heard from an undercover police officer. He first went to Cloud 9 in November 2015 and received a massage from a South Korean woman named Clara.

He was offered "extra or special services." That included a hand job for $30, a topless massage with a hand job for $70 or "everything" for $100.

He returned a month later, this time being led by Lee into a room where Sharon, from Thailand, was waiting. He paid $70 for a massage.

After the massage, Sharon asked the undercover officer if he wanted anything extra.

She clarified that meant a hand job for $30, topless hand job for $70 or "everything including a happy ending for $100".

When police raided Cloud 9 days later, they found $51,400 cash in a brown bag.

Lee told police her family had given her the cash to invest, but the money was seized under proceeds of crime laws. While Lee was charged with offences following the first raid, the charges were later dropped for unknown reasons.

Two years later, police returned, this time finding $18,860 stashed in the ceiling of Lee's bedroom on the Cloud 9 premises.

A $50 note poking out of the manhole had drawn the attention of police.

Also found during the search was a bag of sex toys, including a penis extender and vibrators.

Lee pleaded not guilty to the charges, denying sex work took place on the premises.

In her sentencing remarks, Ms Previtera said Lee continued offending despite the 2015 police search serving as a "warning".

"You clearly require particular deterrence given that the warning by police in 2015 had little or no effect on you in continuing to engage in this type of conduct," she said.