FBI exposes global prostitution ring in Australia
An FBI sting operation has led to six arrests and the shutting down of a sophisticated Asian prostitution ring operating brothels in hotel rooms and apartments in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and cities across the US and Canada.
Renn Cannon, FBI special agent in charge in Oregon, said vulnerable women were allegedly exploited by traffickers who cashed in on their cultural isolation by profiting from the sale of sex services.
Zongtao Chen, 46, of Toronto, Canada, allegedly headed the criminal enterprise that recruited women, primarily from China, to engage in prostitution and other sex trafficking activities.
The enterprise allegedly used a computer program with a database that logged more than 30,000 customer phone numbers with details from previous dates with prostitutes.
"Trafficking adults for sex can at times be overlooked by our society because some believe the adult victims have a choice," said Billy Williams, US lawyer for the District of Oregon.
"This notion is false."
Authorities allege Chen, also known as Mark Chen, and other members of the enterprise used online advertisements and websites, including supermatchescort.com, www.sydneyasianescorts.com and www.melbourneescortss.com, to attract customers.
"These advertisements typically featured scantily clad Asian women, under the guise of being 'escorts', which were, in fact, advertisements for illegal prostitution," the indictment states.
The FBI has shut the websites down, with visitors confronted with the US Department of Justice logo and the warning: "THIS WEBSITE HAS BEEN SEIZED".
Defendant Weixuan Zhou, 37, of Guangzhou, China, allegedly registered, maintained and paid for the Sydney, Melbourne and other websites.
The supermatchescort.com website directly serviced more than 50 large and small cities ranging from Sydney in Australia, Los Angeles, Portland, Philadelphia and Kansas City in the US and Toronto and Halifax in Canada.
Customers used the WeChat encrypted internet messenger service, texts, phone calls and emails to contact "dispatchers" who operated like a call centre, prosecutors alleged.
The organisation, in an effort to limit their criminal exposure, also allegedly used various individuals to lease apartments and residences to turn into brothels.
The Toronto Police Service Human Trafficking Enforcement Team and Fugitive Squad arrested Chen in Canada with a view towards extradition to the US.
Investigators believe Zhou is in China.