SAN DIEGO — A former San Diego Police Department detective, along with his co-defendants, each pleaded guilty Tuesday in connection with a years-long operation involving five illicit massage businesses.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Peter Griffin, 78, who left the police department in 2002, was connected to a scheme that exploited woman to engage in commercial sexual services under the guise of offering massages.

Griffin, along with Kyung Sook Hernandez, 58, Yu Hong Tan, 56, and Yoo Jin Ott, 46, owned and operated Genie Oriental Spa, Felicita Spa, Blue Green Spa, Maple Spa and Massage W Spa between 2013 and August 2022, officials said.

The massage businesses were located in the San Diego area and in Tempe, Arizona.

The DOJ says the defendants were recruiting and employing women to perform commercial sexual services in the businesses while benefiting financially from the illegal enterprises.

The defendants were reported to have leased multiple commercial properties as storefronts, while also leasing and even buying residential properties to use as housing for their employees, officials said.

They secured credit card processing equipment to operate the illicit massage businesses, which the DOJ says they managed the finances of while advertising commercial sexual services online.

A twist to the story — Griffin previously worked as a detective with the Vice Operations Unit of the San Diego Police Department, which is a unit tasked with dismantling the same kind of businesses he plead guilty to operating.

According to the DOJ, Griffin was using his experience to help the businesses evade law enforcement and avoid regulatory inspections. Officials say he even used his badge in one instance.

“Peter Griffin misused the expertise acquired during his time as a vice detective and abused the respect that came with his badge – all to ensure that his ‘massage parlors’ operated under the radar for his personal financial gain,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The guilty pleas of Griffin and his co-defendants underscore the Justice Department’s commitment to holding accountable those who profit from crime, particularly crimes that involve the exploitation of vulnerable populations and the abuse of trust that communities place in law enforcement.”

The DOJ said Griffin also used resources he had access to by virtue of his private investigator license to obtain information on customers and employees on behalf of the illicit massage businesses.

“Griffin betrayed the pledge he took to uphold our laws and to protect the members of our community through his egregious misuse of power and knowledge,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge John Kim of the FBI San Diego Field Office. “We appreciate the collaboration of our federal, state, and local partners to ensure that justice is served to Griffin and his co-conspirators. There is no place in our community for those who negligently prioritize money over people.”

Griffin pleaded guilty to the following charges: conspiring to violate the Interstate Travel in Aid of Racketeering Act (ITAR) by using facilities in interstate commerce to promote and facilitate businesses involving prostitution, plus wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering. The DOJ say he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Hernandez, Tan and Ott, who officials say managed the different illicit massage businesses in Griffin’s network, each pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony and face maximum penalties of three years in prison, according to the DOJ.