An international sex trafficking ring operating in the United States, Canada, and Australia has been broken up, following recent arrests and indictments of six individuals for racketeering.
The indictments against the six individuals were unsealed by a federal court in Oregon on Jan. 16, according to a press release by the U.S. Department of Justice. The arrests were carried out by FBI Portland’s Child Exploitation Task Force in a multi-district operation on Jan. 15, with help from other law enforcement agencies.
Toronto resident Chen Zongtao, also known as Mark Chen, 46, was the head of a criminal ring that recruited women, mostly from China, to cities in the United States, Canada, and Australia to engage in prostitution and other sex trafficking activities. The enterprise—which operated from August 2015 to November 2018—was running under the guise of providing female escorts through multiple websites, including SuperMatchEscort.com, to solicit customers.
Customers would either call, text, email, or send messages through China’s popular messaging app WeChat based on the contact information listed on those websites. People working as dispatchers for the enterprise would set up “dates” between customers and women at various brothels—which were usually located inside hotels or apartment complexes.
The dispatchers kept a customer database of more than 30,000 phone numbers, each with details about their “dates,” according to the press release.
Chen was arrested in Canada this month by the Toronto police, which assisted the FBI in the investigation. According to Canada’s English-language cable and satellite television channel CP24, Chen appeared at the 361 University Avenue Courthouse on Jan. 16. The U.S. government requested his extradition so he could stand trial in Oregon.
According to the indictment, Chen was charged with conspiracy and use of interstate facilities to promote, manage, establish, carry on, or facilitate a racketeering enterprise. The same charge was filed against four others: Zhou Weixuan, also known as Marko Zhou, 37; Wang Yan, also known as Sarah Wang, 33; Wang Chaodan, 32; and Fu Ting, 35.
Zhou, of Guangzhou City in southern China, registered, maintained, and paid for many of the websites, including SuperMatchEscort.com, according to the indictment. The press release stated that investigators believe Zhou is currently in China.
Wang Yan, of Temecula, California, was arrested by the FBI’s Los Angeles Division and appeared before a magistrate judge at a federal court in California on Jan. 15. According to the indictment, Wang worked for Chen as a dispatcher in various cities in the United States.
The current whereabouts of Wang Chaodan of Beaverton, Oregon, is unknown, according to the press release. The indictment stated that Wang managed a residence and a motel room in Oregon that were used as brothels.
Fu, also of Beaverton, Oregon, leased and managed multiple residences in Oregon that were used as brothels, according to the indictment.
The sixth person indicted is Sun Huiling, who appeared at a federal court in Portland on Jan. 15. Sun is also indicted for using interstate facilities to operate the racketeering enterprise.
“Protecting vulnerable foreign nationals from criminal traffickers seeking to exploit them for profit is a critically important law enforcement mission,” stated Billy J. Williams, federal prosecutor of Oregon. He added, “We have always and will continue to aggressively pursue criminals who exploit vulnerable victims.”
The Oregonian, a daily newspaper based in Portland, ran an article on Jan. 17 providing more details about the criminal ring’s operations.
Citing a search warrant affidavit by FBI agent June Piniewski, The Oregonian reported that undercover officers who arranged “dates” through the websites found that the apartments used as brothels were “sparsely furnished, often with just a towel covering a mattress in a bedroom.”
One unnamed woman waiting for an undercover officer at a Beaverton brothel told investigators that “she just opens the door when a customer shows up and does whatever the customer says,” according to the affidavit.