Five people were arrested Thursday in connection with a sex trafficking operation that spanned several cities in Massachusetts.
According to the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, a four month investigation with the FBI uncovered sex brothels in Boston, Cambridge, Quincy and North Reading.
"Today's arrests follow a tragic pattern we are seeing in our neighborhoods — vulnerable individuals being preyed upon and sexually exploited for profit," said Attorney General Maura Healey. "We want victims to know that they will not be prosecuted and that our offices will work to make sure they receive the services they need and deserve.\"
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
Pingxia Fan, 40, of Boston, Timothy Hayes, 50, of Gloucester, Simon Shimao Lin, 59, of Boston, and 47-year-old Biqun Xiao and 65-year-old Robert Mozer, both of Deerfield, New Hampshire, were all arrested in connection with the case.
During an arraignment at Woburn District Court, Assistant Attorney General Nancy Rothstein said the defendants helped build a sophisticated sex trafficking operation that transported women from New York to Massachusetts for months. The victims, according to Rothstein, were all Asian women who spoke little English.
Three of the five brothels they uncovered were luxury apartment buildings that Rothstein said two of the defendants leased. Inside them, they kept several women who they allege were not allowed to leave. Their customers reported to police that the apartments only had mattresses inside them.
"Sex trafficking is without a doubt, the most common form of modern-day slavery and it's big business," said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. "As alleged, Fan and her co-conspirators were offering sex for a fee on a large-scale basis."
Police were first tipped off to the alleged business by ads that were posted on the site, Backpage.com. Detectives with North Reading Police called the number listed and were instructed to go to an apartment complex in the city. From there, they began interviewing men who came and went from the units they suspected were involved in the operation.
During interviews with the customers, Rothstein said they learned the pricing structure for the operation, which they estimated earned the defendants approximately $105,000 per week. Financial analysis of various bank accounts helped detectives link the five defendants together.
Fan, Hayes and Lin were each charged with one count of Trafficking of Persons for Sexual Servitude, Deriving Support from Prostitution, Money Laundering, Keeping House of Ill Fame, and Conspiracy. Mozer and Xiao were charged with one count each of Conspiracy to Traffic Persons for Sexual Servitude.
All the defendants, with exception of Xiao, pleaded not guilty. Xiao is scheduled to be arraigned Friday, at which point a plea can be entered.
Bail was set at $150,000 cash for Fan, Lin and Hayes. Mozer was held on $50,000 cash bail.
A probable cause hearing is scheduled for June 2 at Woburn District Court.