Six Sentenced 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 have now been sentenced in U.S. District Court in Seattle for their roles in an organized crime ring involved with prostitution, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. The leader of the ring, FANG WANG, 29, of Queens, New York, was sentenced last month to 30 months in prison. At her sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly said the “nature of the offense is very troubling to the court.”
YONGGUANG WU, 28, of Seattle and STEVEN THOMPSON, 59, of Renton, Washington, were each sentenced to 8 months in prison. YUNZHONG CHEN, 45, and YAOAN HE, 33, of Seattle, were each sentenced to one year in prison. ZHAOFENG ZHANG, 23, of Seattle, was sentenced today to 21 months in prison. ZHANG continued to post advertisements, rent apartments, and connect customers with ringleader WANG even after being contacted by law enforcement.
According to records in the case, 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 FBI, 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 case was 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).
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kate Crisham.