The owner of a Waite Park, Minn., massage business and her boyfriend were charged Monday in Stearns County District Court with prostitution and sex trafficking crimes following an investigation by the Central Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force.
Authorities said Monday that the investigation led to the rescue of a massage worker who complained that she was being held captive, forced to work 12 hours a day and required to provide sex acts to customers.
Sufeng Jiang, 48, of St. Cloud, was charged with promoting prostitution, receiving profits from prostitution and sex trafficking, all felonies that carry maximum penalties of 15 years in prison and up to $40,000 in fines. Business records indicate that Jiang has owned the business since December 2017. Jiang denied that any sex acts took place at the business, the complaint says.
Randy Carl Wittner, 49, of St. Cloud, was charged with receiving profits from prostitution and aiding and abetting sex trafficking. He and Jiang live together in a mobile home park in St. Cloud.
According to the criminal complaint, the task force received a complaint June 10 about suspicious activity at Oriental Massage, 125 Waite Ave N., in Waite Park. The activity involved men who were parking near the business, rather than in its lot, then walking by before returning to enter. The complaint also indicated that individuals were cooking there and possibly living there as well.
'Did not want to be deported'
Investigators watched the business and spoke with some patrons. Some denied that sexual activity took place there, but three others admitted to it.
A male witness told police Thursday that a worker, identified in court papers as L.L., had sent him a text message saying she was being held captive at the trailer and was being forced to work.
The witness "indicated that Wittner tried to 'sell' L.L. to him and when he said no, Wittner stated he would sell her to his brother," the complaint says.
The witness said he confronted Wittner about the way he treated L.L. and other Asian women, and "Wittner told him that 'they' didn't know any better and that they did not have green cards so they did not want to be deported."
Investigators entered the business Friday to inspect it. They spoke with L.L., an Asian woman in her 40s, who admitted to performing sex acts but said she was forced to do so by Jiang. L.L. said she had entered the United States through Boston and had worked at a number of massage parlors, the criminal complaint says. She kept half of the fees for the massages and sex acts, and the remainder went to Jiang.
Waite Park Police Chief Dave Bentrud said search warrants were obtained for the business as well as the mobile home where L.L. said she was forced to stay. Investigators are looking for another massage worker who they suspect also is a victim, he said.
Bentrud said the investigation is continuing and that other criminal charges, including federal labor trafficking, may be possible.
Sex trafficking is a problem in Stearns County and nationwide, Bentrud said.
"We have reason to believe there are others … in the St. Cloud metropolitan area," Bentrud said. "It's a really tragic situation."
Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall said in a recent interview that the sex trafficking task force has its hands full with a spate of massage businesses opening up in the county. She said many investigations end up in dead ends, in part because the women are reluctant to testify, and they break off contact with authorities.
"Everything tracks back to China," Kendall said.