Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Massage Owners Plead Guilty to Trafficking

From Kansas City Business Journal:

Three owners and operators of Asian massage parlors in Johnson County pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Kansas City to engaging in human trafficking by coercing their employees to engage in prostitution.

In a release, John Wood, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said Ling Xu, also known as “Cherry,” 46; Zhong Yan Liu, also known as “Lucky,” 36; and Cheng Tang, also known as “Tom,” 22, all citizens of China living in Overland Park, pleaded guilty in separate appearances before Judge Fernando Gaitan. Each defendant pleaded guilty to coercing people to travel across state lines and national borders to engage in prostitution and illegal sexual services. They also pleaded guilty to money laundering by wiring more than $500,000 from the proceeds of that unlawful activity to China.

Ling also pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft for using the passports and identification of her female workers to make most of the wire transfers. All three defendants remain in federal custody.

“Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery that reaches from the other side of the globe to the suburban Midwest,” Wood said in the release. “Chinese women were recruited to travel to Kansas City, then coerced to work as prostitutes at massage parlors. These businesses have been shut down and the owners brought to justice. We have also provided social services to assist their victims.”

Ling and Zhong are married to other people with whom they have limited contact, Wood said, and were living together with Ling’s son, Tang. Ling, Zhong and Cheng were involved in operating China Rose Massage and China Villa Massage/Lin Dynasty in Overland Park and, when the charges were filed, were preparing to open Victoria Square in Overland Park. They also operated a nearby residence used for prostitution.

Co-defendant Hongmei Madole, also known as Hongmei Zhou, 32, of Olathe, pleaded guilty April 24 to coercing people to travel across state lines and national borders to engage in prostitution and illegal sexual services. Hongmei was the owner of Asian Touch Massage in Olathe.

Ling, Zhong and Cheng used businesses such as 888 Market and Ho’s Oriental Market to wire at least $452,500 in proceeds from the prostitution businesses to several locations in China. Ling wired at least $343,600 from 2005 to 2006. Of this amount, Ling wired $318,600 by illegally taking and using her female workers’ passports and identification.

Zhong wired at least $74,500, and Cheng wired at least $34,400.

As part of their guilty plea, the three also agreed to forfeit to the government $452,500, which represented the proceeds of the unlawful activity, as well as $60,497 that the FBI seized during the execution of federal search warrants at the defendants’ residences and businesses.

The three each are subject to a sentence of as much as 40 years in federal prison without parole. Ling is also subject to an additional mandatory term of two years in federal prison without parole for aggravated identity theft, which must be served consecutively to her sentence on the other offenses. Hongmei could be subject to a sentence of as much as 20 years in federal prison without parole. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the completion of presentence investigations by the U.S Probation Office.

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