Two men are accused of being part of a sex trafficking operation that brought Chinese women to the Twin Cities.
Zhaxi Taxing, a 41-year-old from St. Louis Park, and Sonam Tsering, a 36-year-old from Massachusetts, were charged in what Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman described as a "highly organized, illegal operation that stretched from coast-to-coast in the United States."
The men are accused of being members of an Asian human trafficking organization that has ties to both California and New York, in which they made thousands of dollars in a few months off the women they're accused of prostituting, according to the criminal complaints.
“These women are victims who were preyed upon by the sex-trafficking operators and we are going to do everything in our power to disrupt the commercial sex trade in Hennepin County," Freeman said.
If you or someone you know is a victim of prostitution, you can call the confidential National Human Trafficking Hotline 24/7 at 1-888-373-7888.
More from the charges
Investigators first discovered the operation back in November after seeing a sex ad for an Asian woman on backpage.com. They called the number listed, which directed them to an apartment in Edina.
When the officer got there, a woman dressed in lingerie greeted him. He identified himself as a police officer, and through a translator found out the victim was from China, but lives in New York. The victim said she was brought to Minnesota to work as a prostitute, and had to give most of her money to the organization.
Investigators connected the Edina residence to an apartment in Richfield, which were both rented using fake information. After shutting down the Edina apartment, police saw Taxing move items from there to the Richfield spot.
Police discovered Taxing made "frequent trips" to the apartment, and observed 10-12 men making quick visits there.
In January, police responded to a sex ad that was connected to the Richfield apartment. A second victim said Tsering lived there with her, noting she took customers "all day and night" and had to give some of the money she made to Tsering.
In less than five months, Tsering deposited more than $19,000 into his bank account, while deposits into Taxing's bank account totaled more than $52,000.
Taxing is charged with two counts of sex trafficking of a person, while Tsering is charged with two counts of sex trafficking a person plus promoting prostitution and receiving profits from prostitution.
Sex trafficking in Minnesota
The Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force says the demand for commercial sex drives prostitution and human sex trafficking. (Prostitution, under Minnesota state law, means hiring or agreeing to hire someone for sex, while human trafficking means aiding in the prostitution of someone.)
Because prostitution and sex trafficking are closely related, statistics about the prevalence of these crimes are often lumped together. Estimates show that 8,000-12,000 people are involved in prostitution or sex trafficking every day in Minnesota, a 2009 fact sheet from the Advocates of Human Rights shows.
Minnesota has a Safe Harbor Law, which protects people under the age of 24 who engage in prostitution – they’re treated as victims instead of criminals.