What began with neighbor complaints regarding clotheslines and cookouts at massage parlors turned into a year-long investigation that ended Friday with charges of prostitution and human trafficking at five Monroeville and Murrysville businesses.
Four people were charged with various counts including conspiracy, corrupt organizations, trafficking in individuals, prostitution and dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities after a statewide grand jury found that young women working at the parlors were part of a human trafficking ring forced to perform sex acts.
“There were neighbor complaints, particularly in Monroeville, where people thought the women were living in the parlors. They see them outside the parlors often hanging their clothes, sometimes cooking in pits outside, or just strolling around the businesses,” Senior Deputy Attorney General Katherine A. Wymard said.
Hui Xu, 44, of Mt. Pleasant owned and operated four Tokyo Massage Parlors where prostitution was occurring, according to the grand jury. She is the widow of Henry “Sonny” Caruso, 49, a veteran guard at the Westmoreland County Prison who committed suicide in November after being suspended from his job as a result of the ongoing investigation.
Others accused of participating in the operation are Chang Yu Chen, 51, of Monroeville, who was described as a handyman and manager at the parlors; Huicun Wei, 47, of Flushing, N.Y., whom Attorney General Josh Shapiro and state police identified as the owner and manager at Judy’s Oriental Massage Parlor in Murrysville; and Robert Delano Yerick, 83, of Delmont, who was described as an administrator and handyman.
Authorities have an arrest warrant for a fifth suspected participant.
“These defendants ran a despicable human trafficking ring — exploiting women for their own profit and forcing them into prostitution,” Shapiro said.
When investigators from the state attorney general’s office, state police and Monroeville and Murrysville police served warrants on the facilities in October, Wymard said “it appeared one young woman was literally living in a closet.”
“There was no way the victim could have been able to lay down to sleep,” she said.
“The women would often arrive in Monroeville, Allegheny County, via a bus that departed from Flushing, N.Y., which is a hub for human trafficking and sex workers. The grand jury learned firsthand of the suffering endured by the women through the testimony (of one of the victims who worked at the Tokyo spas),” the grand jury said.
“Through the forced victimization of these women, the members of the organization personally enriched themselves,” the grand jury alleged in its 11-page report.
Wymard said witnesses said the workers often were encouraged to perform sex acts “to bring in more money for the parlor owners.”
Xu continued to profess her innocence as she was led in handcuffs out of Norvelt District Judge Roger Eckels’ office by Westmoreland County Sheriff’s deputies after failing to post $100,000 bail.
“I did not do anything wrong … this is all talk,” Xu said.
Wymard said after the arraignments that investigators seized a late-model BMW from Xu in October, but she purchased a new one within weeks.
Although relatives of Caruso claimed he was not involved in the parlor operations, the grand jury countered that he often picked up the women at bus stops and took them to the parlors.
“The grand jury learned that money from the business bank account was used to pay for vehicles in Caruso’s name, as well as pay the tuition of Caruso’s daughter,” the presentment stated.
Wymard said investigators discovered $170,000 in cash from Chen’s residence during a search. She said Chen would often move the workers between parlors “so they would not get comfortable at any one place.”
Investigators said Yerick transported victims from the bus stop to the massage parlors owned by Xu. He performed some odd job and maintenance duties outside the parlors, and was a frequent patron, requiring some of the young women workers to have sex with him.
Wymard said the victims are originally from China and speak mainly Mandarin. She said the operation appeared to be headquartered out of Flushing.
Xu was taken to the Washington County Jail, while Wei was incarcerated in Westmoreland County Prison after failing to post $75,000 bond.
Chen suffered a panic attack after his arraignment and was taken by ambulance to an undisclosed area hospital for treatment. Upon his release, he was ordered by Eckels held in the county prison after failing to post $100,000 bail.
Preliminary hearings are scheduled for March 29 before Eckels.