By Eric Hagen
A Blaine man and former owner of a closed Blaine massage parlor is one of four people facing multiple felony charges for an alleged role in an international sex trafficking ring.
Dongzhou Jiang, 28, was charged March 28 by the Washington County Attorney’s Office with six felony charges, including racketeering, aiding and abetting sex trafficking and prostitution and aiding and abetting a business engaged in the concealment of criminal proceeds.
The alleged criminal activities took place in Blaine, Oakdale, Cottage Grove, St. Paul, Maplewood and St. Louis Park.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced charges against four individuals, including Jiang, at a joint press conference March 29.
The three others charged are all from California: Fangyao Wu, 23, Sophia Wang Navas, 49, and Hong Nmn Jing, 48.
“The enormity of this criminal enterprise across the entirety of the United States is ample proof of the pervasive nature of sex and human trafficking here in Minnesota,” Orput said. “Hopefully, this investigation and prosecution will cement in the mind’s eye of the general public the breadth of this problem which law enforcement has to confront.”
According to the criminal complaint, the investigation uncovered an operation out of Irvine, California. Women of Chinese descent were trafficked across the country, including in Minnesota. The four people charged allegedly posted thousands of advertisements for sexual services on Backpage.com in 29 states over the past two years.
Victims were required to work 12 to 14 hour days and had to pay their trafficker’s housing, hotel, food and transportation costs. The victims had no personal connections in the area in which they were sold and some were forced to relinquish their passports, according to the complaint.
Investigators learned from the defendants, as well as financial ledgers, how each victim was required to earn a minimum of $800 per day through the sale of sexual services or risk being fired. Tens of thousands of dollars was allegedly deposited into each of the four defendants’ bank accounts, according to the Washington and Ramsey County attorney offices.
According to the criminal complaint against Jiang, the Blaine Police Department on Aug. 20, 2016, were alerted to the potential of prostitution happening at Peony Massage. A 32-year-old man said he had paid $70 for a one-hour massage and approximately five minutes in the female masseuse offered to perform sexual acts in exchange for money.
Blaine police identified the masseuse, who said she did not speak English. She contacted the owner of Peony Massage – Jiang – to have him speak to the officer.
As a result of the reports, Peony Massage was closed.
According to the complaint, Jiang spoke with law enforcement on March 23. He said he had purchased Peony Massage in April 2016 in attempt to make money to help his aunt. He said he attempted to sell the business shortly afterward because he was losing money. When he was having trouble finding a new buyer, he learned his aunt had contacted Navas to see if she wanted to buy it. They knew each other from California.
Jiang said he had sold the business to Navas for $28,000 and she had provided him with a $4,800 down-payment. Jiang told investigators that the Peony Massage had been a legitimate therapeutic massage business under his ownership and the prostitution activity started after Navas bought the business.
The complaint states that Jiang was still a partner in the business and that he collected money from the women three to four times a week and deposited the money into the bank accounts of Navas, Jing and Wu, who were the other three California residents charged in this case.
According to the complaint, Jiang estimated that five to six women were involved in prostitution at Peony Massage and once their rotation was finished, they asked Navas if they could stay in Minnesota. They were then rotated to local hotels in Bloomington, Golden Valley and Plymouth.
Jiang allegedly received weekly payments ranging from $500 to $800 for his services. He allegedly deposited money into his co-conspirators’ bank accounts and paid himself a fee. In addition to his fee, Jiang said he collected money from the women toward his payment for selling Peony Massage to Jing and Navas, according to the complaint.