Prosecutors: 'Uber' of sex trafficking rings busted in Twin Cities; also stretched into ND
COTTAGE GROVE, Minn.--In a Twin Cites' suburb townhouse less than a half-mile from a Cottage Grove elementary school there was a brothel where women were forced to make a minimum $800 a day as prostitutes, prosecutors alleged in a news conference...
COTTAGE GROVE, Minn.-In a Twin Cites' suburb townhouse less than a half-mile from a Cottage Grove elementary school there was a brothel where women were forced to make a minimum $800 a day as prostitutes, prosecutors alleged in a news conference Wednesday.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said a Chinese national man has been arrested as part of an alleged major, sophisticated and brutal interstate sex trafficking ring-that also reached into North Dakota.
More of the accused sex traffickers are waiting extradition from California.
"When police entered they saw two beds," Orput said. "They also saw a line of guys waiting on a couch, waiting their turn. Sort of sounds like the damn barbershop, doesn't it, where you're lined up waiting for your haircut? It's that awful."
Authorities filed charges in Washington County in a sex-trafficking operation which they say stretched across the U.S. to ensnare foreign-born women to work as prostitutes for clients who sometimes physically and sexually assaulted them.
Headed by two women described as "boss ladies" based in Irvine, Calif, authorities say the enterprise involved transporting women-mainly Chinese nationals-to businesses and private residences scattered around the Twin Cities metropolitan area, including Oakdale, Cottage Grove, St. Paul, Blaine, Maplewood and St. Louis Park.
Women also were sent to more than 20 other states across the country, including North Dakota.
Dongzhou Jiang, 28, of Blaine, served as the regional manager for the operation's Minnesota and North Dakota service area, according to the criminal complaint, coordinating with his bosses in California to transport women advertised for sex on Backpage.com to residences in the Twin Cities.
Part of the ring operated out of the east metropolitan area. That's where Cottage Grove police discovered a house purchased by traffickers that had nothing but two beds and a line of men waiting to have sex, said Orput.
Orput's office headed up the investigation that led to the charges.
The women trafficked were made to work 12 to 14 hours a day and had to pay their traffickers housing fees, transportation costs and hotel expenses and provide their own food, authorities said.
None of them lived in the areas they were sold and some had to give over their passports, authorities said. If they didn't follow the rules, they risked being fired and feared deportation, authorities said.
Orput said the enterprise appeared to be headquartered in Irvine, Calif., where traffickers posted tens of thousands of ads for sexual services on internet sites such as Backpage.com.
Interested buyers from across the country contacted traffickers at the hub and were texted an address of the location nearest them within the ring's service area, which stretched across 29 states, Orput said.
"It seemed to me that this was the Uber of sex-trafficking... where you could order a human being," he said.
The investigation involved several law enforcement agencies, including the Washington and Ramsey county attorney's offices, as well as Woodbury, St. Paul, Oakdale, Cottage Grove and Minneapolis police.
Investigators discovered tens of thousands of dollars in traffickers' bank accounts, authorities said. One account contained more than $850,000.
Those charged include Jiang; Fangyao Wu, 23, of Irvine, Calif.; Sophia Wang Navas, 49, of Chino Hills, Calif.; and Hong Nmn Jing, 48, of Irvine, Calif.
Each faces six felonies, including racketeering, aiding and abetting in sex trafficking, aiding and abetting in the promotion of prostitution and aiding and abetting a business engaged in the concealment of criminal proceeds.
While describing the prosecutions as a victory in the fight to combat sex trafficking, Orput said agencies still have a lot of work in front of them.
"We would like to stop this entire pipeline ... but we have a lot of work to do."
Both he and Choi emphasized that part of the effort also needs to target and reduce the demand fueling the sex-trafficking market.
"How we raise our boys really matters," Choi said.