Six Arrested in Connection with Organized Criminal Ring Profiting from Prostitution Enterprise
Defendants Rented Apartments for Prostitution, Advertised on Backpage.com and other Sites; Cycled Sex Workers through Locations across the West
Six people are under arrest and law enforcement served court authorized search warrants at more than 30 locations as part of an investigation into an organized crime ring involved with prostitution, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. 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, Washington, are charged by criminal complaint with conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution. ZHANG was arrested in Columbus, Georgia. YAOAN HE made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Seattle today. The rest of the defendants arrested in Western Washington will make their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Seattle at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, May 5, 2017.
“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.”
“Partnership is critical in dismantling organized crime syndicates like this one because they span multiple jurisdictions,” said Special Agent in Charge Jay S. Tabb, Jr. of the FBI’s Seattle Field Office. “Our goal is to disrupt networks, not just arrest select individuals or stem criminal activity in one area, only to watch it emerge in another. By working jointly across Washington, local, state and federal law enforcement partners can eliminate the threat that organized crime groups pose to our residents.”
“Our work with our partners continues to expose the underbelly of this industry, and the unequal power dynamics at work within it,” said Sheriff John Urquhart. “Organized crime is a threat to the safety of our community, and we will continue working with our partners to disrupt it.”
“The Bellevue Police Department will be relentless in its effort to rid our community of those who would take advantage of others for personal profit. I commend the hard work of our investigators and Federal partners in this joint effort,” said Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett.
According to the complaint, federal and local law enforcement partners worked jointly to investigate a criminal ring making hundreds of thousands of dollars through the prostitution of Asian sex workers. In partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) and police departments in Bellevue, Redmond, Renton, Seattle and Tukwila identified numerous brothel locations through their analysis of Backpage.com, cell phone, and other business records. The joint team of local and federal investigators then conducted surveillance of the ring’s activities. Law enforcement determined that multiple locations were linked to the organization via ads placed with websites such as Backpage.com. The investigation revealed that the same internet protocol (IP) addresses were used for placing many of the ads, and phone numbers associated with the ads were linked as well – in some instances to call centers located in New York and Washington, D.C. In other cases, the law enforcement agencies followed up on citizen complaints about apartments being operated as prostitution locations and confirmed that the organization was in fact conducting prostitution in those locations.
The investigation revealed that FANG WANG – the apparent leader of the operation – spent approximately $100,000 to increase the traffic to her ads on the Backpage.com site. Other defendants played different roles – renting apartments, transporting sex workers to various locations, purchasing supplies, collecting money from the sex workers and placing ads. Prostitution activities associated with the ring occurred in apartments or hotels located in Bellevue, Kent, Kirkland, Lynnwood, Olympia, Lacey, Puyallup, Renton, Tukwila, Seattle, and Federal Way. Other locations where the ring operated include eastern Washington cities such as Richland, Kennewick, Wenatchee and Spokane. The sex workers were frequently moved throughout the area.
The charges contained in the complaint are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Conspiracy is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case is being jointly investigated by the FBI, the Bellevue Police Department, the King County Sheriff’s Office, the Redmond Police Department, the Renton Police Department, the Seattle Police Department, the Tukwila Police Department, and Homeland Security Investigation (HSI). Today’s operation involved assistance from police departments in Everett, Federal Way, Kennewick, Kent, Kirkland, Lacey, Puyallup, Richland, Spokane, and Wenatchee and assistance from 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.