Most of the women who worked at three central Ohio massage parlors have left Ohio, authorities said last week.
They were at the center of a human trafficking trial in Delaware County Common Pleas Court that concluded last Monday. The guilty verdicts in the trial will have a huge impact on trafficking and the community, officials say.
Brandon Feller, president of the United Way of Delaware County, said Friday that many of the women have returned to bigger cities since the conclusion of the trial where six of the women testified against Estella Xu, 55, of Pomona, California, and her sister, Qing Xu, 57, of Columbus — who were found guilty — and Qing Xu’s husband, Xiaoshaung Chao, 57, also from Columbus, who was acquitted, in a trial that lasted 10 days.
Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien said that after the women were rescued from the massage parlors in a police raid on Jan. 14, they were free to return to China or the bigger cities that they lived in before coming to Ohio to work at the parlors.
O’Brien said the women had to be flown back to Ohio to testify.
“All of them had left Ohio and returned for the case,” O’Brien said.
Although some of the women had provided sexual services to customers at the massage parlors, they were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony, defense attorneys said during the trial.
Samantha Hudson, regional anti-human trafficking coordinator at The Salvation Army in Columbus, said she could not share details on where the victims had gone but confirmed that many had left Ohio.
Hudson said the guilty verdict for Qing Xu and Estella Xu does more than just serve justice; it raises awareness.
“This is a huge eye-opener for central Ohio,” Hudson said. “It shows that trafficking happens everywhere. It’s not just in downtown Columbus; it’s in Powell and Delaware.”
O’Brien said that while the victims might have come to work at the parlors willingly, they didn’t have any choices. O’Brien said the women were told to sleep on the massage tables and they had their food dropped off for them. They weren’t allowed to leave and, even if they could, they couldn’t speak English, she said.
O’Brien encouraged Delaware residents to keep an eye out for any behavior that might be human trafficking and said the case shows how much of an impact an anonymous letter can have. The entire investigation began with an anonymous letter to Powell police where one of the massage parlors was located.
Feller said the verdict will have another significant impact on the community.
“A victory sends a strong message to anyone operating those types of businesses,” he said. “Traffickers will not be tolerated in [Delaware] County.”
O’Brien noted that this case is the first time in Ohio that a guilty verdict was reached in a human trafficking case. O’Brien said the verdict could set a precedent in Ohio.
“This verdict could change how these cases are prosecuted,” O’Brien said.
On Aug. 24, a Delaware County jury returned a guilty verdict for Estella Xu and Qing Xu on the following charges:
• One count of engaging 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 money laundering, a third-degree felony.
• Three counts of practicing medicine or surgery without a license, a fifth-degree felony.
The jury found Xiaoshaung Chao not guilty on all counts. He has since been released from the Delaware County Jail. His attorney, Scott Culbert, declined to comment about his client’s future.
Estella Xu and Qing Xu were taken into custody after the verdict was read and will be held in the Delaware County Jail until they are sentenced on Oct. 16.
O’Brien said it will be up to the federal government to determine if Qing Xu will be deported to China since she is not a U.S. citizen.
Defense attorneys have said they will appeal the convictions.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG