3 women arrested in alleged sex trafficking operation at massage parlors
Police arrested three women Wednesday afternoon on suspicion of running sex trafficking operations at various massage parlors in Utah and Salt Lake counties.
The women, all believed to be from China, went by Americanized names such as “Wendy” and “Nancy” and allegedly controlled young Asian women to provide sex for hire at the businesses, according to court records and the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
Lianfang Feng, 54, Ruixue Chen, 37, and Xiuyun Huo, 45, were jailed on charges including prostitution, exploiting prostitution, money laundering and engaging in a pattern of illegal activity, charging documents said.
Undercover agents with an attorney general’s task force posed as customers in at least four massage parlors, three in Salt Lake County and another in American Fork, and were offered sex acts for payment, arrest affidavits said.
The cases remain under investigation and there are potential additional suspects. Charging documents alleged that Huo’s husband recruited young Asian women in the Los Angeles area to work in Utah massage parlors, but after moving here the women were forced into prostitution.
The investigation also involves alleged criminal activity in Davis County, attorney general’s spokesperson Richard Piatt said Thursday. Police officers from various agencies along the Wasatch Front participated in the investigation.
The investigation began in April when a West Valley City police detective got a handwritten letter from a person identifying herself as “Lulu” who said she was forced into prostitution and was not allowed to leave. She identified Huo as the supervisor, describing her as a “bad boss.” She alleged the husband frequently travels back to Los Angeles to transfer profits to China.
Agents said surveillance on the suspects revealed that Chen allegedly ferried trafficked women to and from the American Fork parlor to a residence owned by Chen in the Salt Lake area. Arrest affidavits said the trafficked women were kept overnight at Feng’s home and transported back and forth to work in the parlors.
An attorney general’s news release said all the victims have been offered any assistance needed, including shelter and medical care.
“The women victims were suffering in plain sight,” Leo Lucey, the attorney general’s chief of investigations, said in a prepared statement. “They were working in servitude and trapped in a criminal enterprise that was extensive and powerful. We are pleased that we are able to work with our law enforcement partners and the Asian Association of Utah as these women recover from the trauma they have endured.”
The suspects’ bank accounts and assets have been frozen while the investigation continues, the AG’s office said. Further, more than $100,000, most of it in cash, was seized when search warrants were served Wednesday.