VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — An undercover police investigation into a network of massage parlors operating as a prostitution ring in Hampton Roads is shedding light on the larger issue of human trafficking.
Three people were arrested in May following an “enforcement operation” by Virginia Beach Police and Homeland Security Investigations that saw search warrants executed at a number of local businesses and homes.
The illegal operation is linked to a vast criminal network that allegedly moves Chinese females throughout the country and is run from New York City and China.
Yang Gao, Ye Wang and Si Liu were charged with conspiracy, money laundering and the use of interstate facilities to promote prostitution. Each is alleged to have played an integral role in day-to-day operations of the ring.
The specific locations of the alleged illicit brothels were not released, however they are referred to as road names in an affidavit filed in July. Those include: Jamestown Road in Williamsburg as well as Princess Anne Road, Euclid Road, Shell Road and Southgate Ave in Virginia Beach.
According to the affidavit, Liu maintained online advertisements for services on SkiptheGames.com, an online escort service linked to prostitution by law enforcement. She also collected payments from the alleged victims and encouraged them to provide illegal services by providing condoms and financial incentives.
Both Gao and Wang are alleged to have used violence in their roles. Gao, who is married to Liu, purportedly ran the day-to-day operations of the massage parlors, collected money and transported victims of prostitution in his own car. Yang assisted him, transporting women and supplies and facilitating illegal payments. Both are also suspected of having committed robberies and assaults.
VBPD was initially tipped off that the Shell Road parlor was engaged in illegal activity in January, leading investigators to uncover online advertisements for prostitution. A series of undercover investigations then took place from January to April, confirming that multiple parlors were engaged in illegal activity.
Police and Homeland Security raided the business and homes associated with Gao, Wang and Liu on May 4, seizing almost $90,000, multiple vehicles and cell phones used to set up illicit appointments. Nine women, at least some of whom were Chinese nationals, were also detained by police.
When interviewed by investigators, according to the affidavit, Gao admitted to transporting victims as well as taking money from them, among other duties. For his work, he said, he was paid between $5,000 and $6,000 per month, allowing him to pay off a mortgage on a property in Norfolk.
Wang also admitted to criminal involvement in the organization. Separately, both he and Gao said they were involved in an incident at a Virginia Beach hotel in which a sex worker (who wasn’t involved in their organization) alleged a man choked her unconscious, hit her with a gun and took her money.
Though her husband described to police that she was paid a commission to post online ads and set appointments, Liu denied that she was involved in or knew about any criminal activity and requested to have a lawyer accompany her in the interrogation.
One of the victims taken from a massage parlor told police that she’d been living there for almost a month, after answering an online ad and traveling to Virginia from New York by bus. For their work, she said, the victims were given 40% of the money they earned. The other 60% went to the bosses.
Check WAVY.com for the latest updates.