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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Bay Area woman sentenced to more than 3 years for human trafficking

OAKLAND, Calif. - A Bay Area woman was sentenced Wednesday to 37 months in prison for confiscating the passport, visa and other documents of a woman from the People's Republic of China in order to maintain control over her and force her to work as an unpaid, live-in domestic servant.

Fang Ping Ding, 62, of Fremont, Calif., pleaded guilty Nov. 1 to one criminal count, admitting she forced the victim to work without pay by physically abusing her, threatening to falsely report her to law enforcement, and maintaining control of her visa and passport. The case is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the FBI.

At Wednesday's sentencing hearing, Ding's daughter, Wei Wei Liang, 36, and her son-in-law, Bo Shen, 43, were sentenced to home confinement and probation, respectively, on immigration charges for harboring the victim, who entered the United States illegally, in their Fremont home. In addition to the prison time and home confinement, U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong also ordered the defendants to jointly pay the victim more than $83,000 and Liang and Shen to forfeit $346,000 to the government.

The investigation revealed Ding began recruiting the victim in China in December 2007, and eventually brought her to the United States in April 2008. After arriving here, the victim provided cooking, cleaning and child care services for the defendants. Ding gave the woman's identity documents to Liang, who kept them locked in a bedroom. Ding and Liang also admitted telling the victim that she needed to remain inside the house because she was an illegal alien.

"By being forced to work without pay for more than a year, physically abused and having her visa and passport taken from her, the victim in this case was denied a basic constitutional right that American's take for granted - freedom," said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. "Not since 1865, when the Thirteenth amendment to the Constitution was ratified, has slavery been tolerated in this country. My office will continue to work diligently to uphold the laws of the United States and ensure everyone's rights are protected."

"The defendants deprived the victim of her freedom through physical abuse and psychological intimidation for their own financial benefit," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. "Their conduct created a condition of modern-day slavery for the victim within the walls of their home. The Department of Justice is committed to vigorously prosecuting cases of human trafficking."

"No one should be forced to live in a world of isolation and servitude as this victim was, particularly in a country that prides itself on its freedoms," said Mark Wollman, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in San Francisco. "It's a sad reflection on human greed and heartlessness, that people believe they can engage in this kind of egregious exploitation with impunity. These sentences should send a message to those who traffic in human beings that ICE Homeland Security Investigations and its federal law enforcement partners are committed to protecting those who cannot protect themselves."

The U.S. Attorney filed charges in a superseding information against Ding, Liang and Shen on May 27. Ding was charged with and pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful conduct regarding documents in furtherance of forced labor. Liang and Shen were each charged with and pleaded guilty to one count of harboring an illegal alien for purposes of private financial gain.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Huang of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California and Trial Attorney Karen Ruckert Lopez of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case with the assistance of legal assistant Jeanne Carstensen. The investigation by ICE HSI and the FBI resulted from a referral by the Fremont Police Department in coordination with the San Jose Police Department Human Trafficking Task Force.

Combating human trafficking is a top priority of the Department of Justice. In each of the past two fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in partnership with U.S. Attorneys' Offices, has brought record numbers of human trafficking prosecutions. Anyone who suspects instances of human trafficking are encouraged to call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888. Anonymous calls are welcome.