DENVER -- A grand jury handed down an eight-count indictment against a pair of in-laws accused of running a “residential brothel” out of a Denver home.
Investigators accused Xiaoli Gao, 51, and Zhong Wei Zhang, 49, of laundering money received from a prostitution operation through a nearby Chinese massage business that Gao owned.
“This is kind of a new thing for us in the human trafficking realm -- to be able to trace the money and charge crimes associated with the use of the money for criminal activity,”said Beth McCann, the district attorney in Denver.
McCann said prosecuting the financial crimes will help protect the alleged victims from having to testify. Denver police Chief Paul Pazen said his department is also working to avoid re-victimizing sex trafficking victims.
“Oftentimes, it is the victim of the sex traffic industry that was the one that was getting the handcuffs put on and getting prosecuted, and we want to make sure that…we’re holding the people that are exploiting vulnerable populations accountable,” he said.
Gao and Zhang are facing charges related to pimping and prostitution in addition to money laundering, filing a false tax return and violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.
According to the indictment, Gao and Zhang are accused of setting up a brothel at a home in southwest Denver.
“During the spring and summer of 2018, women were rotated through the house…on a regular basis to perform prostitution inside the home. These women rarely left the residence except for when they were moved from the home at the end of their stay,” the indictment alleged.
Neighbors grew suspicious of the situation, as men were frequently visiting the home for brief periods. They contacted authorities.
“That call was the sole information that we had to start this investigation,” said Lara Mullin, a senior deputy district attorney in the Denver District Attorney’s Office. Mullin heads the human trafficking unit, according to McCann.
“When an individual calls the hotline, it’s disseminated to all of us in real time both at the Denver Police Department as well as at the Denver DA’s office,” Mullin said. “We sort of triage those calls immediately…we are taking notice and acting on every single call that comes in.”
The indictment indicates that investigators found “over 100 used condoms, a paper with Chinese characters that appeared to be a ledger, KY gel containers and used tissues,” when they searched the trash outside of the house. Investigators also found that sex-related advertisements were placed on the website, backpage.com, listing prices for sexual services.
A surveillance camera outside of the home also captured video of 257 men who came and went from the home and stayed for 30 minutes or less between mid-March 2018 and mid-August 2018.
“The men would often park down the street or on the side of the home and walk up to the back/side entrance to avoid detection,” the indictment said.
Human trafficking hotlines:
National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
Colorado Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-866-455-5075