Pretty Woman

The strange tale of a man and his Chinese bride that has Dallas talking

But another document would prove much more damaging.

On Form I-485, a petition document which Nicole contends attorney Goh completed without talking to her, he ticked off "no" in the boxes that asked if she had committed any crime of "moral turpitude," violated any law or ordinance (excluding traffic violations) or within the past 10 years had been a prostitute or intended to engage in such activities in the future.

Dallas police records tell a different story.

Ralph Isenberg says he's fighting to keep his family together.
Mark Graham
Ralph Isenberg says he's fighting to keep his family together.
Isenberg took this photo of Nicole and posted it on his 
Web site.
Isenberg took this photo of Nicole and posted it on his Web site.

The Ticket

In December 2000, detective Timothy Prokof placed a call to a number he found on page 140 of the Dallas Observer: "Chinese Barbie: Full body rubs by young Chinese lady. Soft touch, nice music. Two ladies available. I will make you relax completely." A phone number was listed. In an affidavit for an arrest warrant, Prokof said he'd responded to the ad in the past and found it to be a front for prostitution.

When Prokof called, a woman answered the phone, said the massage would be $60 and gave directions to an apartment off the LBJ Freeway east of Preston Road. With Prokof waiting in the car, undercover detective Frank Plaster knocked and was greeted by a Chinese woman with long black hair, "the suspect," who motioned to a massage table, gestured for him to lie down and began massaging his shoulders. According to the affidavit, the exchange went like this:

"You been here before?" the Chinese woman asked.

"No," Plaster replied.

"First time?'

"Yeah...Do I need to pay you?"

"Not now."

As she continued the massage, the woman seemed to get suspicious.

"You police? You don't say anything?"

"No..."

"What you want? I will make you come...$100." She held up her index finger.

"Is that in addition to the $60?"

"Yeah..."

"So...$160 total?"

"Yeah..."

The detective sat up. "I have to go...I'm married."

"Oh...you a good husband."

"Yeah. I feel bad."

"It's OK, let me make you come."

"No, I can't."

Plaster then pulled out his badge. The affidavit says Prokof came in and identified Hu Yanhong--Nicole--then they left.

Nicole told Isenberg about the ticket but insisted that she didn't offer sex and that the officer said he was charging her for giving massages without a license. But on January 11, 2001, Nicole received a citation for misdemeanor prostitution. She pleaded no contest and received a $500 fine and deferred adjudication, meaning it would be wiped off her record after five months' probation.

The conviction didn't necessarily prevent Nicole from becoming a U.S. resident. But ICE concluded she'd committed fraud by lying about the offense on the immigration petition and for other inconsistencies on various documents. Rogers ruled that the deportation order had been executed when Nicole "self-deported" to visit her mother, and he had no jurisdiction over the case. But the judge then suggested a strategy to the prosecutors: Open a new case against Nicole on the basis of the fraud allegations. That made her a new illegal arrival and ineligible for bail. ICE complied.

Absence of Malice

Judge Rogers glared from his bench at Ralph Isenberg and WFAA-Channel 8 reporter Brett Shipp. In a 15-minute harangue about media interest in the prison and his court, Rogers demanded to know what Shipp was doing there.

After his tirade, Rogers announced that the January 26, 2004, hearing scheduled for the case of Hu Yanhong--present in the federal courtroom by TV monitor--was being postponed because Isenberg had threatened the judge's life.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," Shipp says. "[Rogers] was trying to intimidate me. I've never seen Ralph so petrified. He thought he was going to be incarcerated." All this, Isenberg says, simply for exposing wrongdoing. He was never charged with a crime.

Each time he went to Haskell, Isenberg had learned more about conditions Nicole and other detainees were enduring. Male inmates weren't separated from the women, who were subjected to taunts and lewdness. The facility was overcrowded and under-heated; Nicole resorted to filling bottles with hot water and sleeping with them for warmth. The prison didn't supply sanitary napkins, toilet paper or soap. Each inmate was supposed to be given a handbook of prison rules and a list of items they could purchase from the commissary. But they had no handbooks in Chinese; Nicole was given a Spanish handbook instead.

Isenberg ran up a $5,000 bill through the facility's phone system that charges inmates exorbitant rates. He called the prison once and sometimes twice a day demanding better food, medical care and other improvements in Nicole's treatment. Though shunned by some friends and business associates, Isenberg was unable to back off, to ignore what he believed were violations of human rights. Isenberg began taking sworn statements from former prison employees. All the while, prison officials were monitoring his phone conversations with Nicole.

Judge Rogers had rebuffed Isenberg's efforts to get Nicole released. Isenberg had appeared in his court without an attorney and asked for leniency. The judge had listened, then talked to an ICE prosecutor and set bond at $325,000, telling Isenberg the government deemed Nicole a flight risk, and "there's a lot you don't know about your girlfriend."

Then Isenberg discovered Rogers had been the subject a year earlier of a scathing story in the Baltimore Sun that painted the judge as a money-grubbing influence-peddler.

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