Attorney General Becerra Files Sex Trafficking Charges Against Organized Crime Ring Operating Statewide
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the filing of multiple charges against Jing Chiang Huang, Shu Mei Lin, Shao Lee, Peihsin Lee, Pengcheng Cai, and Dafeng Wen for alleged felonies involving sex trafficking, tax fraud, and money laundering as part of an organized crime ring operating throughout California. The charges are the product of multiple operations undertaken by the California Department of Justice and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with numerous local and national law enforcement partners.
“The California Department of Justice stands ready to combat serious criminal activity like sex trafficking wherever it occurs in our state,” said Attorney General Becerra. “We’re grateful to our law enforcement partners for their tireless efforts that resulted in the arrest of and charges against these six criminal defendants. We intend to prove that they exploited vulnerable women of Asian descent and forced them to perform sex acts in exchange for money.”
In the amended criminal complaint filed with the Santa Clara County Superior Court, Attorney General Becerra alleges that the defendants committed 13 felonies between 2015 and 2019 related to sex trafficking of multiple victims, tax fraud, and money laundering. Per the complaint, the defendants allegedly advertised on Backpage.com in connection with their human trafficking operation and allegedly deprived individuals of their liberty in order to force them to commit sex acts at multiple brothel locations. In order to exercise control over the victims, the defendants allegedly withheld at least one survivor’s passport and threatened future job opportunities. Among other things, the defendants were also allegedly involved in the collection of proceeds related to the sex trafficking and allegedly attempted to launder the money through monetary instruments, such as checks, that were then deposited at various banks.
As a result of a June takedown targeting the crime ring, two of the defendants, Jing Chiang Huang and Shu Mei Lin, were arrested and 14 survivors of trafficking were rescued. Following further enforcement action this week, three additional defendants, Peihsin Lee, Pengcheng Cai, and Dafeng Wen, were arrested. Their arraignment was continued late yesterday to November 7, 2019, at which time all the defendants, except Shao Lee who is currently at large, are set to appear before the court. The criminal proceedings involving all of the defendants are expected to be consolidated.
The arrests and charges were the result of a joint operation led by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. The operation involved the California Department of Justice, Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, Santa Clara Police Department, Santa Clara County Probation Department, Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Task Force, San Jose Police Department, Burlingame Police Department, Fremont Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, Milpitas Police Department, Newark Police Department, Oxnard Police Department, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, Sunnyvale Police Department, Tacoma Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and California Franchise Tax Board.
Today’s announcement builds on Attorney General Becerra’s ongoing efforts to stamp out sex trafficking in the state and safeguard the rights of survivors. Last year, Attorney General Becerra helped bring down the world’s largest online brothel, Backpage.com, and convicted its CEO. Additionally, Attorney General Becerra testified before the U.S. Senate to push for the passage of the federal Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which became law in 2018. The California Department of Justice has also fought to protect juvenile victims of trafficking, bringing 54 felony charges against the alleged operators of a statewide sex trafficking ring based in Tulare County in 2017.
It is important to note that criminal charges are only allegations against a person. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty.
A copy of the amended complaint is available here.