Archive for Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Kansas: Sex trafficking charges change for Wichita couple

January 8, 2014

— A federal grand jury on Tuesday revised the charges against a massage parlor owner and his wife accused of sex trafficking in Wichita, just a week before the case goes to trial.

The amended indictment charges Gary Kidgell, of Waltham, Mass., and Yan Zhang, of Wichita, with sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. One count also charges Kidgell with harboring for financial gain an immigrant who was in the country unlawfully.

The four-count complaint lists three women, identified only by initials, who allegedly were forced into prostitution. A fourth woman, also identified only by initials, was in the U.S. illegally and is the basis of the harboring count against Kidgell.

The amended indictment for all practical purposes makes moot a defense request to dismiss two of the more serious counts over the government’s earlier failure to specify that the alleged conduct was related to interstate commerce.

Kidgell won a short-lived victory when U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren dismissed those counts during a hearing Tuesday. But before the hearing even ended, the amended indictment handed up by a grand jury meeting elsewhere had fixed the legal problems and restored the charges.

All the last-minute legal maneuvering did not derail the upcoming four-day trial, which remains set to begin Jan. 14.

The couple is charged with recruiting women to come to Wichita to work at massage parlors, then coercing them into prostitution. Prosecutors allege the trafficking operations began in 2009 and continued until 2011.

Former employee Xiuqing Tian, 42, of Framingham, Mass., pleaded guilty in November to a harboring count.

Authorities began investigating the massage parlors in 2010 after Wichita police detectives found Internet postings about sexual services available in Wichita. In September 2010, officials sent undercover officers to the massage parlors. The officers paid for massages, but were offered, and declined, sex acts for an added price, according to an affidavit filed with the initial charges.

During a 2010 search of the massage parlors, officers found a notebook containing translations for sexually explicit phrases. Also found during the raid was copy for ads in a Chinese-language newspaper in New York, Chicago and San Francisco offering “massage parlor hiring” in Kansas.

Court documents indicate the defendants worked together and shared resources to operate nine massage parlors in Wichita: AG Spa, Sun Chi Spa, Dragon Spa, Eastern Massage, Oriental Massage, Phoenix Spa, Sunflower Massage, Massage 600 and Ocean Spa.

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