SALT LAKE CITY — Three people were charged Monday with using Asian massage parlors in Utah as a front for human trafficking.
Ruixue Chen, 37, and Lianfan Feng, 54, are both charged in 3rd District Court with engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity and money laundering, second-degree felonies; exploiting prostitution, a third-degree felony; and two counts of prostitution, a class B misdemeanor.
Feng was also charged with three counts of aiding prostitution, a class A misdemeanor, and three counts of maintaining a public nuisance, a class B misdemeanor, while Chen was charged with one count of each crime.
Xiu Yun Huo, 45, was charged with money laundering, a second-degree felony; exploiting prostitution, a third-degree felony; two counts of aiding prostitution, a class A misdemeanor; and two counts of maintaining a public nuisance, a class B misdemeanor.
The three have connections to six massage parlors in Salt Lake County and American Fork where women were forced to perform sex acts with customers in exchange for money, according to charging documents.
The investigation began earlier this year when the Utah attorney general's Statewide Enforcement of Crimes by Undocumented Residents Task Force received a tip from a woman that "she was being forced to engage in commercial sex," the charges state.
The woman called Huo a "bad boss" and said Huo's husband "finds girls in Los Angeles and brings them to Utah to work," according to the charges. The woman said she agreed to do massages only, but claimed that after taking the job she was forced to perform sex acts.
"(The woman) said she and the other girl have asked to go home and Huo will not let them. (She) stated she wants to go home and requested law enforcement assistance," according to the charges.
As investigators began digging into the case, they learned that Feng had the same Salt Lake address on her driver's license as another person who was investigated between 2019 and 2020 by the Utah Attorney General's Office for human trafficking, money laundering, and exploiting prostitution and was tied to two Asian massage parlors in Salt Lake County, the charges allege. In addition, one of the massage parlors tied to the latest charges also had a search warrant served on it in 2017.
Investigators held surveillance on several massage parlors and Feng's residence between April and August. During that time, she was observed transporting women to and from different businesses, the charges say.
Between May and July, undercover agents also visited the massage parlors while posing as clients and were offered sexual acts in exchange for money, according to charging documents.
Chen has ties to a massage parlor in American Fork that was part of an investigation earlier this year, according to police. She was seen at Feng's residence just days after being released from jail for her April arrest, charging documents state, and had returned to the American Fork massage parlor to work in July.
Prosecutors have requested all three defendants be held in custody without bail pending trial.