Attorney General Bonta Secures Guilty Pleas in Statewide Trafficking Ring Bust
Additional three individuals plead guilty as a result of multi-jurisdictional enforcement effort
OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced securing guilty pleas from three additional individuals involved in an organized crime trafficking ring that operated across California. As a result of the guilty pleas, Pengcheng Cai, Dafeng Wen, and Peishin Lee will be required to serve prison sentences of up to approximately eight years in prison for sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and money laundering. The guilty pleas announced today are in addition to a sentence of 10 years and eight months previously secured against Jing Chiang Huang. The guilty pleas are the result of a cooperative investigation by the California Department of Justice, Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, and several other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
“Whether it’s trafficking, money laundering, or any other crime, California is committed to holding those who break the law accountable,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “The guilty pleas we’ve announced today demonstrate what we can achieve when we work together. Through grit and collaboration, we’re dismantling organized crime and disrupting human trafficking in our state. Bottom line: Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”
“The Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office is committed to working collaboratively to curtail human trafficking and effectively prosecute those who engage in this from of criminal enterprise,” said Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton. “These guilty pleas and imposed sentences demonstrate that when law enforcement agencies work together, communities are safer.”
In 2019, the Office of the Attorney General charged Huang, Cai, Wen, Lee, and two other individuals with a total of more than a dozen felonies that were allegedly committed between 2015 and 2019 related to sex trafficking of multiple victims, tax fraud, and money laundering. The charges came after multiple joint takedown operations resulted in several arrests, as well as the rescue of more than a dozen suspected survivors. As part of the trafficking operation, the crime ring used Backpage.com to place advertisements for sex and deprived individuals of their liberty in order to force them to commit sex acts at multiple brothel locations. In addition, as a form of labor trafficking, the ring also withheld at least one survivor’s passport and threatened future job opportunities.
The latest guilty pleas involving Cai, Wen, and Lee were formally entered before the Santa Clara County Superior Court on Monday. Cai pleaded guilty to one charge of sex trafficking and will be required to serve eight years in prison, as well as register as a sex offender. Wen pleaded guilty to labor trafficking and will be required to serve five years in prison. Lee pleaded guilty to money laundering and being an accessory after the fact, and, after already serving time in jail and on home detention, she will be required to serve an additional year in jail. The fifth defendant is currently set to be arraigned on December 27 and the final defendant, Shao Lee, is currently considered a fugitive and remains at large.
The initial takedown and charges in this case were the result of a joint effort led by the California Department of Justice and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. The operation and ongoing investigation also involved the Burlingame Police Department, California Franchise Tax Board, Concord Police Department, Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, Contra Costa Safe Streets Task Force, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fremont Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Milpitas Police Department, Newark Police Department, Oxnard Police Department, San Jose Police Department, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Task Force, Santa Clara County Probation Department, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Clara Police Department, Sunnyvale Police Department, and Tacoma Police Department.
The California Department of Justice’s case against the remaining two defendants is ongoing. 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 in the case is available here.