WICHITA, Kan. — Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged three people in a wide-ranging sex trafficking scheme operating at nine Asian massage parlors in Wichita, alleging they recruited women from outside Kansas and coerced them to engage in prostitution.
A criminal complaint filed Wednesday in federal court charges owner Gary H. Kidgell, 44, of Waltham, Mass.; Yan Zhang, 49, of Wichita; and employee Xiuqing Tian, 42, of Framingham, Mass., with a conspiracy that allegedly started in June 2009 and lasted until August 2011.
Court records do not indicate any defense attorneys for the defendants, and the U.S. attorney's office did not know if any have been retained.
The six-count complaint lists four women, identified only by their initials, who were allegedly forced to engage in prostitution.
Authorities began investigating the massage parlors in 2010 after Wichita police detectives found Internet postings about sexual services available in Wichita. In September 2010, officials sent in undercover officers to the massage parlors. The officers paid for massages, but were offered, and declined, sex acts for an added price, according to the affidavit.
During a 2010 search of the massage parlors, officers found a notebook containing translations for sexually explicit phrases. Also found during the raid was copy for ads in a Chinese-language newspaper in New York, Chicago and San Francisco offering "massage parlor hiring" in Kansas.
Court documents indicate the defendants worked together and shared resources to operate nine massage parlors in Wichita: AG Spa, Sun Chi Spa, Dragon Spa, Eastern Massage, Oriental Massage, Phoenix Spa, Sunflower Massage, Massage 600, and Ocean Spa.
According to court documents, Kidgell told detectives in a 2010 interview that he and his wife came to Wichita after his construction consulting business in California failed after the building market collapsed. In Kidgell said his wife had learned the massage business while working at a spa in Wichita in 2007 and had learned about the city's lack of massage parlor regulations, according to the police affidavit.
It is not clear from court documents why the criminal complaint wasn't filed until this week.
Kidgell and Zhang were married and continued a business relationship after the couple became estranged, according to an affidavit filed by Wichita police Sgt. D.G. Oblinger in support of the charges. Zhang was also arrested last week for prostitution.
Kidgell allegedly acknowledged during that interview to placing ads in a Chinese-language newspaper in New York and Los Angeles to recruit women to work for them, but claimed he did not know what the employees were doing.
Several of the female employees told police they came to work in the massage parlors because they were told they would make a lot of money. Once they were in Wichita, they found the work was difficult and they did not earn much. Some said they were told never to leave the business because the area around the parlors was dangerous.