Women working in three massage parlors were willing employees, not victims of human trafficking, according to attorneys for three Chinese people on trial in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.
Defense attorneys on Wednesday agreed with prosecutors that sexual favors were performed at the central Ohio massage parlors but rejected the allegation that the women at the parlors were victims.
The trial for Qing Xu, 57, and her husband, Xiaoshuang Chao, 57, both of Columbus, and Qing Xu’s sister, Estella Xu, 55, of Pomona, California, resumed Wednesday morning. The trial began Tuesday and jury selection took a day and a half.
The proceedings are complicated by the fact that the defendants do not speak English and each requires an interpreter. Opening arguments Wednesday lasted nearly two hours, and attorneys and the judge frequently had to slow down or clarify what they were saying for the interpreters.
Attorney Daniel Sabol, representing Estella Xu, told the jury that the allegations of human trafficking are unfounded because the women came to America willingly and legally, and were paid for their work. Sabol said the women — the youngest of whom is 45 — earned $20 per massage, plus tips. He said they each earned between $3,000 and $4,000 a month.
Sabol criticized the investigation of the massage parlors and said that investigators conducted surveillance and collected trash but never interviewed the women until a police raid in January. Sabol said investigators told the women they faced life in prison and other punishment if they didn’t cooperate with the investigation and testify against the defendants. Sabol noted that since the police raid, the women have been in the care of the Salvation Army where they have gotten help with immigration, English lessons and housing.
Attorney Christopher Soon, representing Qing Xu, questioned a prostitution charge by saying that some customers did not receive “happy endings” but each customer paid the same hourly rate regardless.
Attorney Scott Culbert, representing Xiaoshuang Chao, asked why all of the workers who allegedly performed sexual favors, as well as their customers, were given immunity by prosecutors. Culbert said his client had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of the parlors and was essentially a driver for the women.
Jennifer Raush, an assistant prosecuting attorney in the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, explained in her opening arguments that she is prosecuting the case, along with Douglas Dumolt, assistant prosecuting attorney in the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, because two of the massage parlors owned by the defendants were in Franklin County. The other was in the Delaware County city of Powell
Raush said that Estella and her sister, Qing, owned three massage parlors and said the women working there would perform services other than massages — touching men’s thighs, buttocks and genitals — and were paid for the services.
Prosecutors said the seven women working at the massage parlors were ordered to perform sexual favors by Estella and Qing Xu. Prosecutors noted that the women were in an area where they didn’t speak the language and weren’t allowed to leave the business or quit without permission of the owners. Raush described the women as “indentured servants” and said they were paid next to nothing.
The trial is expected to last more than a week and will resume Thursday morning. Customers of the parlors are expected to testify this week and next.
Raush said each member of the trio is 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.
• Three counts of practicing medicine — massages — without a license, a fifth-degree felony.
• Three counts of money laundering, a third-degree felony.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.