An anonymous letter is the clue that started an investigation of three central Ohio massage parlors, according to one of the police detectives who testified in Delaware County Common Pleas Court Wednesday.
The trial of three Mandarin Chinese-speaking people — Qing Xu, 57, and her husband, Xiaoshaung Chao, 57, both of Columbus, and Qing’s sister, Estella Xu, 55, of Pomona, California — who are accused of human trafficking and promoting prostitution at three massage parlors they operated in central Ohio — continued into its seventh day Wednesday. One of the massage parlors was in Powell.
A Powell police detective told the jury the police department received an anonymous letter at the beginning of October 2014. The detective said that based on the letter’s contents — which were not disclosed in the courtroom because it would be considered hearsay — police had reason to believe a crime was taking place at the parlors and began to investigate.
The court has ordered that the detective not be identified in news reports.
The detective said he contacted the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force and began working with a Columbus police vice detective on an investigation.
The detective told the jury about investigators pulling trash bags from dumpsters at the locations. The detective told the jury that many bags contained tissues and napkins with body fluids on them.
Prosecutors said during opening arguments that the women working at the massage parlors were providing sexual gratification to male customers at the end of their massages and cleaning them up with tissues.
The day began Wednesday with examination of video evidence presented by investigators from the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office.
Prosecutors showed the jury eight video clips taken from surveillance cameras inside the massage parlors. The videos depicted various interactions between customers, workers and the owners of the massage parlors.
The massage parlor workers and customers have been given immunity in exchange for their testimony, defense attorneys have said. Last week workers testified that they were not held against their will.
Qing Xu, Xiaoshaung Chao and Estella Xu are each charged with:
• Behaving in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony, with a specification that the defendant knowingly committed crimes that furthered human trafficking.
• Eight counts of promoting prostitution, a fourth-degree felony, also with an added specification for human trafficking. Authorities have alleged that the women working at the massage parlors were providing sexual services for male clients.
• Three counts of practicing medicine — massages — without a license, a fifth-degree felony.
• Three counts of money laundering, a third-degree felony.
During the trial, interpreters have been needed to translate testimony for the three defendants, who do not speak English. Visiting Judge Joseph Timothy Campbell has had to stop proceedings frequently to remind attorneys or witnesses to slow down for the interpreters.
Authorities have alleged that the women were forced to live at the massage parlors and were not permitted to leave. Defense attorneys have said that all the women came to Ohio legally.
The massage parlors were shut down by authorities during a raid in January.