Thursday, August 25, 2016

Human trafficking ring busted in southern California; 28 victims

The suspects who allegedly operated a sex-trafficking operation, are, from top left, clockwise: Jiuyin Cu, Hsin Chieh “Jerry” Wang, Runan Xia, Yiwen Wang and Defung Hu



A HUMAN TRAFFICKING ring that forced at least 25 Chinese women into prostitution in motels across Southern California, where they earned millions of dollars for their alleged captors, was busted this month and five people were arrested, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday. 

After a six-month investigation, the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies took the five suspects, all described as Chinese nationals, into custody Aug. 4 for their alleged involvement in a human trafficking sex operation taking place in Ventura County and eight other counties.

"Commercial sex is nothing short of modern-day slavery," said Undersheriff Gary Pentis at a news conference in Thousand Oaks. He added that such operations are pervasive. "This is a hideous crime that has an impact on all of us."


The five suspects who were arrested in connection with operating and controlling the operation were identified by the authorities as 40-year-old Hsin Chieh "Jerry" Wang of Covina, 33-year-old Defung Hu of San Gabriel, 42-year-old Yiwen Wang of Covina, 63-year-old Jiuyin Cui of Rosemead, and, 32-year-old Runan Xia of Alambra.

In February of 2016, members of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office, Oxnard Police Department and the Ventura County District Attorney's Office conducted prostitution stings at local motels in Ventura County. The stings were aimed at targeting advertisements for sex found on the social website Backpage.com.  Following the stings, detectives identified a potential victim of human trafficking and uncovered evidence revealing a larger group was operating across the region.  
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A task force was formed from local, state, and federal agencies to gather additional evidence. The investigation revealed a sophisticated human trafficking network responsible for trafficking women for the purpose of commercial sex.  The network was run much like a corporation and investigators identified five members of the organization.    

Wang was identified as the head of the human trafficking ring.  Wang oversaw the organization and worked with a Defeng Hu.  Hu coordinated the transportation and lodging of the victims at various motels in nine California counties.  Hu was identified as the network's dispatcher and took calls from hundreds of men each month who were answering sexually explicit ads found on Backpage.com.  Hu negotiated sex with the men and directed them to motel rooms occupied by the victims. 

The "sex for money" transactions ranged from $100 to $160 dollars and proceeds from the crimes were laundered through as many as 50 bank accounts at nine financial institutions. Investigators obtained substantial evidence showing that Jerry Wang and Defeng Hu were responsible for running the overall network and benefiting from the proceeds. Investigators also determined that Jerry Wang's sister, Yiwen Wang, laundered the illicit proceeds from the commercial sex by investing in real estate.  

Franchise Tax Board investigators determined that Hu and Yiwen Wang both failed to report the illicit income earned from the human trafficking ring on their state income taxes.  

Jiuyin Cui and Runan Xia were responsible for transporting women between the different motels in the nine California counties and for maintaining the motel rooms. They also provided the bare necessities for the victims, which included food, water and toiletries.

Detectives identified approximately 28 victims in central and southern California. All of the victims were identified as Chinese women in their 30s and 40s, who were in the country for a short time on what appeared to be legitimate visas for tourists or students.  

After arriving in the country, some of the victims relinquished their passports to members of the human trafficking organization.  Most of the victims spoke little or no English and they were placed in motels and areas that were often unfamiliar to them. 

Once placed in a motel, they rarely came out of their rooms for any reason.  The victims were expected to engage in commercial sex acts from early in the morning until late at night, every day, as directed by Hu.  During the investigation, some victims were found to have also been victims of physical abuse and robbery by commercial sex customers.  Hu compelled the women to continue providing commercial sex acts despite their repeated objections and requests to stop working. 

The victims continuously incurred debt as they were forced to pay the drivers, Cui and Xia, for transportation between motels, motel room costs, food, and in some cases, the advertisements on the Internet placed by Wang and Hu.

Investigators executed search warrants and arrested the five subjects on Aug. 4. Bail for each suspect was set at $5-million by the Ventura County Superior Court. 

At the same time as the arrests, investigators from the FBI, local law enforcement agencies and victim services advocates from local agencies contacted eight victims who were actively operating out of motels throughout central and southern California.  The victims were offered services, including food, shelter, transportation, clothing and medical services.  

In addition to the arrests, investigators seized approximately $350,000 in cash at the various locations, froze bank accounts containing approximately $730,000, a car valued at $30,000 and froze three residential properties valued at approximately $1.8 million.  These assets were frozen because investigators believed they were profits from the criminal organization and as a result of money laundering.       

For more information on human trafficking, go to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center website.