Authorities nab seven people they said were involved in an international human trafficking ring operating in Denver massage parlors

Denver’s DA office believes money obtained from the victim’s sex work helped pay for illegal marijuana grows.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann looks at a photos for seven Chinese nationals indicted on human trafficking charges in Colorado after a press conference on Thursday, August 20, 2020, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann looks at a photos for seven Chinese nationals indicted on human trafficking charges in Colorado after a press conference on Thursday, August 20, 2020, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

A statewide grand jury has indicted seven people tied to what authorities are calling operation “Bad Apple,” an international human trafficking ring involving illicit massage parlors they said paid for illegal marijuana grows.

Denver police worked with the state Attorney General’s office to investigate the crimes. Seven people and 12 businesses have been charged with 33 felony counts. Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said the investigation started in March 2019 after her office was tipped off by Aurora city officials that massage parlors shut down in the city due to new laws may have reopened in Denver.

All seven people indicted are Chinese internationals and are accused of racketeering. The charges announced Thursday allege they engaged in pimping, money laundering and tax evasion that McCann said generated millions of dollars in profit. They are being charged under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.

The indictment alleges the seven people trafficked women from China to engage in sexual acts in local massage parlors. McCann said her office believes money from the victim’s labor was used to pay for mortgage and utility payments on properties used for black-market marijuana grows.

McCann has repeatedly called human trafficking among her office’s top priorities.

“We’ve dismantled a sophisticated, human trafficking operation,” McCann said.

Five of the people indicted are in custody and will be tried individually in Denver District Court. They include Chen Liang Kuo, Yi Ting Mo,  Manqui Xu, Le Zhang, and Xuelin Chen.

Denver Chief Paul Pazen said 14 women were exploited by the ring; McCann said the women were Chinese nationals and have since left the Denver area. The victims are being connected to services, Pazen said, which is a shift from previous policy that would have charged them with prostitution. McCann said they have partnered with the Asian Pacific Development Center to help provide additional culturally-sensitive services.

Two women named in the indictment are still at large. They include Xiong Xie, 54, whose last known location was San Gabriel, California, and Ying Guo, 49, whose last known location was Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Police are asking for assistance to bring them into custody, while Crime Stoppers is offering an up to $2,000 reward.

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