A Delaware County Common Pleas Court jury began deliberations Friday afternoon in the case of three persons accused of human trafficking in central Ohio.
Courtroom staff reported that visiting Judge Joseph Timothy Campbell said the jury would be allowed to deliberate as late as it wants.
Friday was the ninth day of 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. One was in Powell.
The prosecution and the defense both rested Thursday but closing arguments took up most of Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
During his closing arguments, assistant county prosecuting attorney Douglas Dumolt said evidence shows the defendants knew sexual services were being performed at their massage parlors and actively encouraged and promoted those services on websites like Backpage.
Dumolt also alleged that workers at the massage parlors were victims of human trafficking because many of them asked to leave and were told they had to wait until replacements could come.
Defense attorney Christopher Soon countered in his closing argument that the women came willingly — and legally — to the massage parlors, got to keep money they earned, had cellphones and Internet access, and could leave whenever they wanted, citing the example of a worker who left the massage parlors for a different job in New York City but willingly returned.
Soon said the prosecution put itself in a corner when it contacted the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force and spent hundred of hours and many resources on what they thought was “the tip of the iceberg” of a human trafficking ring — when, in reality, the case was much smaller and did not constitute human trafficking.
During testimony, defense attorneys asked a Columbus vice detective in charge of the investigation why none of the parlors’ customers or parlor workers had been charged. The detective told the jury they weren’t charged because engaging in prostitution is only a misdemeanor. Defense attorneys have said that the clients and workers were given immunity in exchange for their testimony.
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 money laundering, a third-degree felony.
Qing Xu and Estella Xu are also charged with three counts of practicing medicine — massages — without a license, a fifth-degree felony.
During the trial, interpreters have been needed to translate testimony for the three defendants, who do not speak English, and for six women who worked at the massage parlors. Campbell has had to stop proceedings frequently to remind attorneys or witnesses to slow down for the interpreters.
The jury is comprised of seven women and five men.
The massage parlors were shut down by authorities during a raid in January.