Orange County District Attorney Press Release
*Co-defendant charged in this case is a fugitive with a warrant out for her arrest
SANTA ANA – A man was sentenced today to four years in state prison for conspiracy to commit pimping and pandering by operating brothels in Irvine and Torrance. Gao Yang Zhou, 35, Rowland Heights, pleaded guilty to a court offer to 12 felony counts including three felony counts each of pimping, pandering, money laundering, and one felony count each of conspiracy to commit pimping, conspiracy to commit pandering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, with a sentencing enhancement for money laundering over $50,000.
Co-defendant Yuzhen Xie, 32, Rowland Heights, faces the same charges and enhancement as Zhou and faces a maximum sentence of 11 years and eight months in state prison if convicted. Xie is currently a fugitive and a warrant is out for her arrest.
Between April 1, 2013, and Dec. 12, 2013, Zhou and Xie conspired to commit pimping, pandering, and money laundering. During this time, Zhou paid for website advertisements for prostitution located an apartment in Irvine from which to run a brothel.
On May 24, 2013, Xie is accused of signing a lease to an Irvine apartment on Alton Parkway, which Zhou turned into a residential brothel. The defendants induced Jane Doe #1, Jane Doe #2, and Jane Doe #3 engage in commercial sex in exchange for money. Xie and Zhou maintained numerous bank accounts, where they deposited the money made by the victims in the brothel. Zhou also maintained multiple bank accounts to pay for expenses associated with the brothel, including advertisements.
Zhou committed money laundering and Xie is accused of committing money laundering by using the multiple bank accounts to conduct financial transactions in order to promote, manage, or carry on their criminal activity.
In early August 2013, Zhou paid for advertisements on a website known for prostitution advertising a brothel in the Torrance area. Between Aug. 13, 2013, and Aug. 22, 2013, Zhou operated a brothel in Torrance using rooms he rented at a hotel, Extended Stay America, and advertising prostitution services. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted the defendant for these crimes committed in Los Angeles County based on the theory that the crimes were committed as part of an ongoing conspiracy.
In early October 2013, Xie is accused of signing a lease for another Irvine apartment and Zhou set up a residential brothel in that apartment. Zhou monitored regular surveillance of sex purchasers who frequented the brothel, acted as a pimp, and arranged sexual encounters for the victims.
On Dec. 11, 2013, undercover officers from the Irvine Police Department (IPD) contacted the brothel and arrested Zhou that day. IPD investigated this case.
Members of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF) and the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) Office work proactively to protect women and minors from falling victim to commercial sexual exploitation. This case was investigated by OCHTTF, a partnership between the Anaheim Police Department, California Highway Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Huntington Beach Police Department, OCDA, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and community and non-profit partners.
Deputy District Attorney Daniel Varon of the HEAT Unit prosecuted this case.
Proposition 35 and HEAT
In November 2012, California’s anti-human trafficking Proposition 35 (Prop 35) was enacted in California with 81 percent of the vote, and over 82 percent of the vote in Orange County, to increase the penalty for human trafficking, particularly in cases involving the trafficking of a minor by force.
A component of the OCHTTF is the OCDA’s Human Exploitation And Trafficking (HEAT) Unit, which targets perpetrators who sexually exploit and traffic women and underage girls for financial gain, including pimps, panderers, and human traffickers. The HEAT Unit uses a tactical plan called PERP: Prosecution, to bring justice for victims of human trafficking and hold perpetrators responsible using Prop 35; Education, to provide law enforcement training to properly handle human trafficking and pandering cases; Resources from public-private partnerships to raise public awareness about human trafficking and provide assistance to the victims; and Publicity, to inform the public and send a message to human traffickers that this crime cannot be perpetrated without suffering severe consequences.
Under the law, human trafficking is described as depriving or violating the personal liberty of another person with the intent to effect a violation of pimping or pandering. Pimping is described as knowingly deriving financial support in whole or in part from the proceeds of prostitution. Pandering is the act of persuading or procuring an individual to become a prostitute, or procuring and/or arranging for a person work in a house of prostitution.
Penal Code Section 236.1 defines:
(1) “Coercion” includes any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process; debt bondage; or providing and facilitating the possession of any controlled substance to a person with the intent to impair the person’s judgment.
(2) “Commercial sex act” means sexual conduct on account of which anything of value is given or received by any person.
(3) “Deprivation or violation of the personal liberty of another” includes substantial and sustained restriction of another’s liberty accomplished through force, fear, fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or to another person, under circumstances where the person receiving or apprehending the threat reasonably believes that it is likely that the person making the threat would carry it out.
(4) “Duress” includes a direct or implied threat of force, violence, danger, hardship, or retribution sufficient to cause a reasonable person to acquiesce in or perform an act which he or she would otherwise not have submitted to or performed; a direct or implied threat to destroy, conceal, remove, confiscate, or possess any actual or purported passport or immigration document of the victim; or knowingly destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating, or possessing any actual or purported passport or immigration document of the victim.
(5) “Forced labor or services” means labor or services that are performed or provided by a person and are obtained or maintained through force, fraud, duress, or coercion, or equivalent conduct that would reasonably overbear the will of the person.
(6) “Great bodily injury” means a significant or substantial physical injury.
(7) “Minor” means a person less than 18 years of age.
(8) “Serious harm” includes any harm, whether physical or nonphysical, including psychological, financial, or reputational harm, that is sufficiently serious, under all the surrounding circumstances, to compel a reasonable person of the same background and in the same circumstances to perform or to continue performing labor, services, or commercial sexual acts in order to avoid incurring that harm.
(i) The total circumstances, including the age of the victim, the relationship between the victim and the trafficker or agents of the trafficker, and any handicap or disability of the victim, shall be factors to consider in determining the presence of “deprivation or violation of the personal liberty of another,” “duress,” and “coercion” as described in this section.