Snohomish County, WA – The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit (SIU) assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigations and several other law enforcement agencies in a large-scale prostitution sting on May 4th, 2017.
According to a press release from Shari Ireton, Director of Communications for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, over 30 search warrants were served throughout Western Washington, Georgia, and Queens, New York. One of those was served at a Lynnwood Brothel. SIU detectives, with assistance from the Snohomish County Violent Offender Task force, made entry into the facility and located an adult female, a victim of human sex trafficking. A Sheriff’s Deputy and F.B.I agent interviewed the victim and offered her victims assistance. The Lynnwood location that was raided has been the subject of multiple complaints. No arrests were made at the location.
Sheriff Ty Trenary said “I’m proud of our agency’s involvement and the work by Sheriff’s Office detectives in helping take down this prostitution ring. These are difficult cases, requiring countless hours of investigative work and planning. Human trafficking is essentially a form of modern-day slavery and I won’t tolerate the victimization of women in Snohomish County.”
While there were no arrests at the Lynnwood location, a total of Six people were arrested as part of the large-scale investigation into the organized crime ring involving prostitution.
According to the complaint filed in U.S District Court, Federal and Local Law Enforcement partners worked jointly to investigate a criminal ring making hundreds of thousands of dollars through the prostitution of Asian sex workers. In Partnership with the FBI, the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) and Police Departments in Bellevue, Renton, Redmond, Seattle and Tukwila identified numerous brothel location through their analysis of Backpage.com, cell phone and other business records.
The joint team of local and federal investigators then conducted surveillance of the ring’s activities. Law Enforcement determined that multiple locations were linked to the organization via ads placed on websites such as Backpage.com. The investigation revealed that the same internet protocol (IP) addresses were used to place many of the ads and many of the phone numbers associated with the ads were linked as well. In some instances the phone numbers listed took callers to call centers in New York and Washington, D.C.. In other cases, Law Enforcement agencies followed up on citizen complaints about apartments being used as prostitution locations and confirmed that the organization was in fact conducting prostitution at those locations.
The multi-state investigation revealed that FANG WANG, the apparent leader of the operation had spent around $100,000 to boost her ads to increase the traffic to her ads on the backpage.com.
Other defendants in the case played different roles, renting apartments, transporting sex workers to various locations, purchasing supplies, collecting money from sex workers and placing internet ads.
Investigators determined that prostitution activities associated with the ring occurred at apartments or hotels in Bellevue, Kent, Kirkland, Lynnwood, Olympia, Lacey, Puyallup, Renton, Tukwila, Seattle and Federal Way. Other locations where the prostitution ring operated included Eastern Washington cities such as Richland, Kennewick, Wenatchee and Spokane. The sex workers were frequently moved from city to city.
Arrested in the investigation were 28-year old FANG WANG of Queens, New York, 27-year old YONGGUANG WU of Seattle, 44-year old YUNZHONG CHEN of Seattle, 32-year old YAOAN HE of Seattle, 22-year old ZHAOFENG ZHANG of Seattle and 59-year old STEVEN THOMPSON of Renton, Washington. All were charged with conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution. ZHANG was arrested in Columbus, Georgia.
U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes said ” These defendants ran an organized prostitution ring with tentacles into many of our cities and towns. The search warrants executed today are part of our ongoing investigations. We are committed to working closely with our state and local partners to ensure we identify and hold all those responsible to account, including anyone involved in human trafficking or exploitation crimes.”
“Partnership is critical in dismantling organized crime syndicates like this one because they span multiple jurisdictions,” said Special Agent in Charge Jay S. Tabb, Jr. of the FBI’s Seattle Field Office. “Our goal is to disrupt networks, not just arrest select individuals or stem criminal activity in one area, only to watch it emerge in another. By working jointly across Washington, local, state and federal law enforcement partners can eliminate the threat that organized crime groups pose to our residents.”
“Our work with our partners continues to expose the underbelly of this industry, and the unequal power dynamics at work within it,” said Sheriff John Urquhart. “Organized crime is a threat to the safety of our community, and we will continue working with our partners to disrupt it.”
“The Bellevue Police Department will be relentless in its effort to rid our community of those who would take advantage of others for personal profit. I commend the hard work of our investigators and Federal partners in this joint effort,” said Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett.
According to a release from the United States Department of Justice, the charges contained in the complaint are only allegations.
A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Conspiracy is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case is being jointly investigated by the FBI, the Bellevue Police Department, the King County Sheriff’s Office, the Redmond Police Department, the Renton Police Department, the Seattle Police Department, the Tukwila Police Department, and Homeland Security Investigation (HSI). The operation and service of search warrants involved assistance from police departments in Everett, Federal Way, Kennewick, Kent, Kirkland, Lacey, Puyallup, Richland, Spokane, and Wenatchee and assistance from the Snohomish County and Spokane County Sheriff’s Offices.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Kate Crisham, Siddharth Velamoor and Vince Lombardi.