KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The three owners and operators of Asian massage parlors in Johnson County, Kan., pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to engaging in human trafficking by coercing their employees, whom they recruited from China, to engage in prostitution. This plea was announced by John F. Wood, U.S. Attorney, Western District of Missouri. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies.
"Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery that reaches from the other side of the globe to the suburban Midwest," Wood said. "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."
"Victims of human trafficking are deceived, coerced or threatened by their captors," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago. "ICE will work closely with our law enforcement partners to identify and protect the victims, and prosecute their captors." Hartwig oversees a six-state area, which includes: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
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 residing in Overland Park, pleaded guilty in separate appearances this morning before U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan. Each of the defendants pleaded guilty to coercing persons 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. Xu also pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft for using the passports and identification of her female workers to make most of those wire transfers. All three defendants remain in federal custody.
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 massage parlors, including: "China Rose Massage" and "China Villa Massage/Lin Dynasty" in Overland Park; and, at the times charges were filed, they were preparing to open "Victoria Square" in Overland Park. They also operated a nearby residence that was used for prostitution.
Co-defendant Hongmei Madole, also known as Hongmei Zhou, 32, of Olathe, Kan., pleaded guilty April 24 to coercing persons to travel across state lines and national borders to engage in prostitution and illegal sexual services. Madole owned "Asian Touch Massage" in Olathe.
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 the flights for the women. They would fly the women into the Kansas City, Mo., International Airport and then transport or have them transported to the businesses. Xu and Tang signed massage therapy license applications, as the manager of the businesses, for the females to obtain massage therapy licenses with the city of Overland Park.
Xu, Liu, and Tang placed ads in the Kansas City magazine, The Pitch, which stated the massage parlors offered, for example, "The most elegant environment and the most comfortable atmosphere in town. With free table shower and free Sauna!" The ads stated that the massage parlors were open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tang also posted and maintained ads for the business at ASPD.net, a website where male customers posted reviews of the sexual services offered by China Rose and China Villa Massage/Lin Dynasty.
The female Asians who worked for Xu, Liu, and Tang worked from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week and lived inside the massage parlors. Xu, Liu and Tang operated surveillance cameras inside the massage parlors to monitor the female Asian workers. Inside the massage parlors, the female Asian workers were forced to perform 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 and Liu purchased supplies to be used in the prostitution activities, including bulk orders of condoms that were provided to the females for use while engaging in the prostitution activities.
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 from 2005 to 2006. Of this amount, Xu wired $318,600 by illegally taking and using her female worker's passports and identification. Liu wired at least $74,500 and Tang wired at least $34,400.
Xu was the head of these businesses, as the lead owner and operator. Xu also employed and paid Liu and Tang for their work and assistance in committing the offenses.
By pleading guilty today, Xu, Liu, and Tang also agreed to forfeit to the government $452,500, which represented the proceeds of the unlawful activity, as well as $60,497 that was seized by the FBI during the execution of federal search warrants at the defendants' residences and businesses.
Xu is a native and citizen of China. She has resided legally in the United States pending adjudication of immigration benefits. Liu entered the United States on a visitor's visa which expired in 2001. He remained in the United States illegally thereafter. Madole is a native of China who is a conditional resident alien in the United States based upon marriage to a U.S. citizen.
Under federal statutes, Xu, Liu, and Tang are each subject to a sentence of up to 40 years in federal prison without parole. Xu 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. Madole could be subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the U.S. Probation Office completes its presentence investigations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia L. Cordes, Western District of Missouri, is prosecuting this case. It was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, the police departments of Overland Park, Kan., Olathe, Kan., Mission, Kan., Lenexa, Kan., and Independence, Mo., and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.