3 sentenced for recruiting Chinese women for prostitution

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The ring leader and two others who ran a massage parlor scheme that recruited women from China to work as prostitutes in the U.S. were sentenced in federal court this week. These sentences resulted from a joint investigation conducted by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI, the Overland Park (Kansas) Police Department, the Independence (Missouri) Police Department, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Ling Xu, aka "Cherry," 48, was sentenced Oct. 14 by U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan, Western District of Missouri, to eight years and two months in federal prison without parole. Xu was sentenced for leading and organizing a criminal scheme to coerce her employees, whom she recruited from China, to engage in prostitution. Her co-conspirators Zhong Yan Liu, aka "Lucky," 37, and Cheng Tang, aka "Tom," 23, were each sentenced Oct. 13 by Judge Gaitan to five years in federal prison without parole.

The court also ordered each defendant to forfeit $452,500 to the government, which represented the proceeds of the unlawful activity. An additional $60,497 seized by the FBI during the execution of federal search warrants at the defendants' residences and businesses was also ordered to be forfeited.

Each defendant pleaded guilty to coercing persons to travel across state lines 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. Xu also pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft for using the passports and identification of her female workers in order to make most of those wire transfers.

After Xu was arrested, she discussed plans to have any worker who testified against them killed. Xu stated that she was going to have Liu kill a female worker and her family for $5,000 upon his release from custody (she did not yet realize they would be held without bond).

Xu and Liu are married to other persons, with whom they have limited contact, and were living together with Xu's son, Tang. Xu, Liu and Tang were involved in operating "China Rose Massage" and "China Villa Massage/Lin Dynasty" in Overland Park. At the time charges were filed, they were preparing to open "Victoria Square" in Overland Park and a new location in Wichita, Kan. They also operated a nearby residence that was used for prostitution. Xu headed these businesses, and was the lead owner and operator. Xu also employed and paid Liu and Tang for their work and assistance in committing the offenses.

Xu, Liu and Tang recruited female Asians to travel to the Kansas City area to work as masseuses. They facilitated the women's travel, including, but not limited to, booking and purchasing their flights. They flew the women into the Kansas City, Mo., International Airport and then transported them to the businesses. As managers of the businesses, Xu and Tang signed massage therapy license applications for the women to obtain massage therapy licenses with the city of Overland Park.

Xu, Liu and Tang worked the female Asians from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. The female workers, who were not paid, lived inside the massage parlors, where they performed sexual services on male patrons in exchange for money. Xu, Liu and Tang also used a nearby apartment, within walking distance of one of the massage parlors, to have the female Asian workers provide extended sexual services to some male patrons. Xu, Liu and Tang operated surveillance cameras inside the massage parlors to monitor the female Asian workers.

Xu, Liu and Tang used businesses, such as "888 Market" and "Ho's Oriental Market," to wire at least $452,500 in proceeds from the prostitution businesses, via Western Union, to several locations in China. Xu wired at least $343,600 in this manner between 2005 and 2006. Of this amount, Xu wired $318,600 by illegally taking and using the female workers' passports and identification. Liu wired at least $74,500, and Tang wired at least $34,400.

When the search warrants were executed on her massage parlor, Xu locked herself in the bathroom and began flushing evidence down the toilet. Three law enforcement agents had to physically remove her from the toilet to stop the destruction. Officers salvaged as much as they could from the toilet stool and dried it. The documents included the Western Union receipts and ledgers used to document and maintain the profits made from the customers of the female workers.

"These sentences send a strong message that ICE continues to work closely with our law enforcement partners to dismantle human trafficking organizations that seek to profit from others' misery," said Gilbert Trill, assistant special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Kansas City. "Although we can't erase the suffering and humiliation experienced by these victims, we pledge that we will continue to identify and protect the victims, and prosecute their captors."

All three defendants are Chinese nationals residing in Overland Park, Kan. and are subject to deportation after they complete their prison sentences.

In a separate case resulting from this investigation, the owner of two Johnson County massage parlors has pleaded guilty to inducing women to travel across state lines for the purpose of prostitution. Wei Li Pang, also known as Linda, 39, a Chinese national and U.S. permanent resident residing in Overland Park, will be sentenced on Oct. 26. Pang co-owned and operated "Asian Massage Health Center" in Olathe, Kan., and owned and operated "Oriental Massage" in Mission, Kan.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia L. Cordes, Western District of Missouri, is prosecuting this case.