Mt. Pleasant woman accused of human trafficking seeks return of seized cash, vehicles
A Mt. Pleasant woman awaiting trial on human trafficking charges in connection with four massage parlors she owned wants a judge to return more than $700,000 and two vehicles seized from her in the investigation.
In court documents filed Thursday, Hui Xu, 44, contends the items, including proceeds from a $500,000 insurance policy for her husband after he committed suicide last November, were not derived from illegal activities.
“Ms. Xu denies any allegations of trafficking individuals at this time. The money that has been seized was not used to facilitate or further any crime by Ms. Xu. The funds were used for her businesses — businesses that were legally and lawfully owned,” defense attorney Anastasa S. Williams wrote.
Xu was arrested with three others and charged with multiple criminal counts in March after a yearlong investigation by state and Murrysville police alleging that the Tokyo Massage parlors she owned and operated were part of a human trafficking ring, where workers in Monroeville and Murrysville were forced to perform sex acts.
Police seized bank accounts and other items, including several cars, that prosecutors contend were proceeds from the massage parlors or items used in the operation of the businesses.
Xu wants a Westmoreland County judge to return to her cash seized at the businesses, bank accounts of Xu and her husband and two vehicles. She also wants possession of her husband’s insurance policy.
Sonny Caruso, 49, a suspended guard at Westmoreland County Prison, committed suicide in November. Caruso was not charged in the human trafficking case but was mentioned prominently in a grand jury presentment released this year in which he was suspected of laundering money and of driving massage parlor employees.
According to court records, Xu opened four bank accounts between November 2014 and March 2015 and used money she deposited monthly to pay for internet advertisement for her massage parlors, including at least one website investigators said allows users to find businesses that offer sexual services.
Prosecutors said they also seized cash from the businesses, as well as more than $89,000 from Xu and Caruso’s home.
“It was further discovered that Xu’s (bank) business account paid off the balances of multiple credit cards in the names of Xu and Caruso that were used to purchase luxury vehicles and to pay for college tuition of Caruso’s daughter at Duquesne University,” prosecutors said.
Xu is scheduled to appear Aug. 26 before Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway for a hearing to determine if the case is ready for the trial, now scheduled to begin Nov. 4.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .