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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
05/14/2013

2 arrested in connection with extensive criminal enterprise involving human trafficking

Operation spanned multiple Massachusetts communities including Bedford, Billerica, Medford, Reading, Wilmington and Woburn

WILMINGTON, Mass. — A Medford, Mass., woman and a Woburn, Mass., man have been arrested in connection with running an extensive criminal enterprise involving human trafficking. Authorities allege that the extensive operation spanned multiple communities in Massachusetts including: Bedford, Billerica, Medford, Reading, Wilmington and Woburn.

Xiu J. Chen, 32, of Medford, and Ronald Keplin, 57, of Woburn, were arrested May 13 without incident by HSI special agents and the Massachusetts State Police, with assistance from various local police departments. Chen was arrested in Reading and Keplin was arrested in Woburn.

These arrests are the result of an investigation by HSI and the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Massachusetts attorney general's office, in conjunction with officers from various local police departments. The investigation focused on allegations of human trafficking and prostitution in multiple Massachusetts communities. Law enforcement executed search warrants at six businesses May 13. Following the execution of the search warrants, Chen was arrested in Reading and Keplin was arrested in Woburn.

Chen and Keplin are charged with trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, 1 count each; deriving support from prostitution, 6 counts each; and keeping a house of ill fame, 6 counts each. Both were arraigned May 14 in Somerville (Mass.) District Court.

"We allege that these individuals ran an extensive local human trafficking organization through what outwardly appeared to be legitimate businesses in multiple communities," said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. "The trafficking of women is often insidious and out of public view, but it is happening right in our own communities. Today's arrests are due to a collaborative effort between our office, HSI and our local police partners and we thank them for assisting in this investigation and these arrests."

"Few crimes strike at our community the way human trafficking does," said Michael Netherland, deputy special agent in charge of HSI Boston. "The grim reality is that human trafficking and sexual exploitation are a very real part of the modern world. HSI and our law enforcement partners in Massachusetts are committed to bringing these criminals to justice and rescuing their victims from a life in the shadows. We will continue to fight the battle to end human trafficking both here in the United States and around the globe."

Authorities allege that Chen and Keplin operated six businesses that were portrayed as massage parlors but were in fact fronts for an extensive human trafficking operation. The businesses are:

  • Bedford Asian Bodywork, aka Bedford Wellness Center, of Bedford;
  • Shrine Spa, aka Billerica Bodywork, aka Boston Chinese Club, of Billerica;
  • Mystic Health Center of Medford;
  • Body Wellness Center of Reading;
  • Body Language of Wilmington; and
  • Asian Bodywork, aka Woburn Wellness Bodywork, of Woburn.

During the course of the investigation, authorities developed evidence indicating that Chen and Keplin were the leaders of this operation, running a profitable and organized criminal enterprise through these businesses that had been set up as fronts for illegal activity. Through these businesses, Chen and Keplin allegedly offered sexual activity between women they employed and their clients in exchange for a fee.

Authorities allege that together, Chen and Keplin coordinated the recruitment of women from across the eastern seaboard, including New York. They advertised sexual services on websites known to advertise prostitution, set up appointments for sexual encounters for the women and managed the financial aspects of the organization. They also allegedly arranged for overcrowded housing for the women and facilitated the daily transportation of the women to and from the businesses.

"The men and women of the Bedford Police Department were happy to assist the task force in bringing a halt to this type of activity," said Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno. "The victimization of anyone, especially women, is reprehensible, and not the kind of behavior that will be tolerated in Bedford or in any of our communities."

"The term human trafficking usually causes the average person to think of young girls being abused in far away places internationally, but today's events demonstrate that it does take place locally, in cities and towns, large and small, right here in the U.S.," said Medford Police Chief Leo Sacco Jr. "Thanks to the coordinated efforts of the law enforcement entities involved in this investigation this operation has been shut down."

"I would like to thank Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts State Police, the Department of Homeland Security and all the other local police departments that have been involved in this lengthy investigation and its successful outcome," said Reading Police Chief James Cormier. "This investigation is a prime example for those who feel prostitution is a victimless crime, it is anything but victimless. Human trafficking has major implications on our communities and its victims, often young females seeking a better life. Our roles as protectors of those who are unable to protect themselves is showcased in cases such as this, the victims of human trafficking are the epitome of those who cannot protect themselves. The Reading Police Department is proud to have worked with our partners to impact this regional conspiracy, we still have more work to do in this very important area."

"We as local chiefs are thankful for the work of Attorney General Martha Coakley and her staff for partnering with local law enforcement leaders and investigators and bringing the expertise and resources of the Massachusetts State Police, Homeland Security Investigators and the Massachusetts Division of Public Licensure to bear on a scourge that resides in many communities both small and large," said Wilmington Police Chief Michael Begonis. "We jointly recognize the bigger picture regarding the effects of Human Trafficking within our communities. Collectively, disrupting and dismantling this criminal enterprise will not only remove the leaders of such an organization from our street but will also provide appropriate services for the young women, who are truly victims, bond to a life of indentured service. Investigating the criminal enterprise beyond the narrow focus on the local crime of prostitution is an appropriate paradigm shift in investigative philosophy. After many hours of surveillance and investigation by our law enforcement partners, today's operation will remove this predatory criminal organization from our local streets and provide needed services and opportunities to their victims."

"Today's arrests were the culmination of a cooperative and comprehensive investigation between state, federal and many local law enforcement agencies coordinated by the attorney general's office," said Woburn Police Chief Robert Ferullo. "This operation is a significant step in dealing with the wide spread problem of human trafficking and prostitution is our communities. On behalf of the citizens of Woburn, I would like to thanks all of the agencies involved in making these arrests and look toward the just prosecution of those arrested today."

HSI and the Massachusetts State Police received assistance from the following agencies: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Bristol County Sheriff's Office, Middlesex County Sheriff's Office, Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure and the Massachusetts Attorney General's Computer Forensics Lab. The Acton, Boston, Bedford, Billerica, Burlington, Dracut, Malden, Medford, Providence (R.I), Reading, Revere, Waltham, Wilmington and Woburn Police Departments provided invaluable assistance in this case.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Deb Bercovitch, with the assistance of Investigator Jaclyn Morrill and Victim Witness Advocate Nikki Antonucci.