Two Chinese women accused of human trafficking and running massage parlors that offered sexual services were each sentenced in Delaware County Common Pleas Court on Friday to 10 years in prison.
Estella Xu, 55, of Pomona, California, and her sister, Qing Xu, 57, of Columbus, were both found guilty of 15 charges following a 10-day jury trial in August. They were sentenced Friday by visiting Judge Joseph Timothy Campbell who presided over the trial in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.
Estella and Qing were each found guilty of:
• 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.
• Three counts of money laundering, a third-degree felony.
• Eight counts of promoting prostitution, a fourth-degree felony, also with an added specification for human trafficking. Authorities alleged that the women working at the massage parlors were providing sexual services for male clients.
• Three counts of practicing medicine without a license, a fifth-degree felony. Felonies are categorized by degree of seriousness, with first-degree being the most serious.
Estella and Qing were sentenced to 10 years in prison on the charges.
The judge also said that after their releases, they will be subject to five years of post-release control (supervision by the Adult Parole Authority). Both were also classified as Tier 1 sex offenders which means that, upon release, they must register annually where they reside and are employed.
Estella and Qing’s attorneys, Daniel Sabol and Christopher Soon, said they would appeal the verdict now that their clients have been sentenced.
Estella and Qing were in the Delaware County Jail Friday afternoon awaiting transport to prison.
A third defendant in the trial was Qing Xu’s husband. Xiaoshaung Chao, 57, but he was found not guilty on all charges and was released from the county jail after the verdict was read.
The trio was accused of running three massage parlors in central Ohio that offered sexual services. Prosecutors said the workers of the massage parlors were victims of human trafficking and were forced to provide sexual pleasure to men during massages.
Defense attorneys said the workers and customers of the massage parlors were given immunity in exchange for their testimony.
The case was prosecuted jointly by prosecutors with the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office and Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office and was investigated by authorities working as part of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, which is part of the Ohio Attorney General’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission.
Members of the task force began investigating suspicious activity at the Amsun Massage businesses in Powell and Worthington and at Rainbow Massage in Columbus after tips from the community indicated that customers were purchasing sex at the massage parlors and some workers appeared to be living at the locations. Investigators executed search warrants at the three businesses and the sisters’ Columbus apartment in January.
The investigation found that the sisters recruited women from outside the state who were native to China, could not speak English, and had no ties to central Ohio, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. The defendants led the women to believe that they would be working legitimate massage parlor jobs, but instead forced them to engage in sexual conduct with customers, DeWine said.
“The victims in this case had no choice but to do as they were told because they couldn’t speak English, they had no access to transportation, and therefore, they had no way out,” said DeWine. “We will not tolerate human trafficking in Ohio, and law enforcement will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute those who force others into involuntary servitude.”
“This is a groundbreaking case,” said Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien in a statement issued by DeWine’s office. “Together we are changing the way society identifies a victim and evolving to prosecute the real criminals, those behind what is essentially modern-day slavery.”
The Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force is comprised of authorities with the Columbus Police Department, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, Powell Police Department, Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, Ohio State Highway Patrol, State Medical Board of Ohio, Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities with the Worthington Police Department and FBI assisted with the investigation. The Salvation Army of Central Ohio assisted the victims with their basic needs, provided case management, and linked them with medical care, legal assistance, and housing assistance, DeWine’s office said. Asian American Community Services also assisted through interpretation and cultural support for the victims.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG. Gary Budzak contributed to this report. Some information was provided by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.