SEATTLE – Washington law enforcement arrested six people Thursday connected with an organized criminal ring profiting from a prostitution enterprise during a multi-agency operation which began with court authorized search warrants at more than 30 locations.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) dedicated 25 special agents, analysts, computer forensics specialists and task force officers to help identify the more than 30 human trafficking victims encountered during the operation and offer them support services, including guidance on potential immigration relief.
Fang Wang, 28, of Queens, New York; Yongguang Wu, 27, Yunzhong Chen, 44, Yaoan He, 32, Zhaofeng Zhang, 22, all of Seattle; and Steven Thompson, 59, of Renton, Wash., are charged with conspiracy to promote prostitution.
According to court documents, federal and local law enforcement partnered to investigate the defendants who rented apartments for prostitution by advertising on Backpage.com and other sites. Sex workers were cycled through locations across Washington, earning the criminal organization hundreds of thousands of dollars. Numerous brothel locations were identified through the analysis of Backpage.com, cell phone, and other business records.
The investigation revealed that the same internet protocol (IP) addresses were used for placing many of the online ads, which had associated phone numbers that were linked to the ads and, in some cases, to call centers located in New York and Washington, D.C. In other cases, law enforcement agencies investigated citizen complaints about prostitution being conducted in apartments.
The investigation revealed that Fang Wang – the apparent leader of the prostitution ring – spent approximately $100,000 to increase traffic to her sex workers’ ads on Backpage.com. Other defendants rented apartments, transported sex workers, purchased supplies, collected money from the sex workers and placed ads. Apartments and hotels in Bellevue, Kent, Kirkland, Lynnwood, Olympia, Lacey, Puyallup, Renton, Tukwila, Seattle and Federal Way were associated with prostitution activities. The ring operated in additional locations including eastern Washington cities such as Richland, Kennewick, Wenatchee, and Spokane.
“These defendants ran an organized prostitution ring with tentacles into many of our cities and towns,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “The search warrants executed today are part of our ongoing investigation. We are committed to working closely with our state and local partners to ensure we identify and hold all those responsible to account, including anyone involved in human trafficking or exploitation crimes.”
The charges contained in the complaint are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case is being jointly investigated by HSI, the FBI, the King County Sheriff’s Office, and the Redmond, Renton, Seattle and Tukwila police departments. The operation involved assistance from police departments in Everett, Federal Way, Kennewick, Kent, Kirkland, Lacey, Puyallup, Richland, Spokane and Wenatchee as well as the Snohomish County and Spokane County Sheriff’s Offices.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Kate Crisham, Siddharth Velamoor and Vince Lombardi.