Four people have been charged in Washington County court in connection with what prosecutors call a “sophisticated” international human trafficking ring.
All four face charges of racketeering, sex trafficking, promotion of prostitution, concealing criminal proceeds, and engaging in the business of concealing criminal proceeds. The charges were announced March 29.
Dongzhou Jiang, 28, of Blaine, was the only Minnesotan charged. The other three defendants were Hong Jing, 48, of Irvine, Ca.; Sophia Wang Navas, 49, of Chino Hills, Ca.; and Fangyao Wu, 23, of Irvine, Ca.
“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,” said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput in a written statement. “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.”
The investigation included cooperation by the Washington County Attorney’s Office, Woodbury Police Department, Saint Paul Police Department, Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, Oakdale Police Department, Cottage Grove Police Department and Minneapolis Police Department.
“This significant bust of an international human trafficking ring happened as a direct result of the coordinated efforts of law enforcement and prosecutors in Minnesota, determined to end the trafficking of human beings in our state,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a written statement. “These victims were especially vulnerable, as they were trapped in a foreign country where they barely spoke the language and sold for sex. Today marks significant progress in our statewide efforts to combat human trafficking and we want to thank all of the agencies involved for their collaboration.”
According to the criminal complaint, the investigation uncovered an operation based in Irvine, Ca., which trafficked women, who are Chinese nationals, for the purpose of prostitution across the country, including in Minnesota. Investigators documented multiple places of alleged operation for the Minnesota-based branch including Blaine, Cottage Grove, Oakdale, Maplewood, St. Louis Park and St. Paul.
“Investigators were able to connect this criminal enterprise to numerous victims and thousands — literally thousands — of ads for sexual services placed on Backpage.com in 29 different states over the past two years,” Choi said in announcing the charges. “The victims in this scheme were brutalized: frequently assaulted, raped and robbed by customers; forced to ‘work’ 12-14 hours a day and bring in a quota of at least $800 per day for their traffickers.”
The organizers of the ring allegedly made significant profits by exploiting the women involved. A bank account held by one defendant recently had a balance in excess of $850,000, the bulk of which was used to purchase a home in the U.S., prosecutors say.
Choi credited Orput and his office with initiating the effort to bring down the criminal operation.
“This effort began with and was led by Washington County Attorney Pete Orput and his dedicated staff in the Washington County Attorney’s Office,” Choi said.
“If you are responsible for criminal groups like this one, be warned, we will find you and will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” Orput said.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]