Chinese sex-trafficking couple used WeChat to lure mainland women into prostitution in US, prosecutors say
- Sou Chao Li and wife Derong Maio face possible life sentences, accused of trafficking at least 27 women from China to work in the New England sex industry
- The couple took a passport from at least one woman to ensure her cooperation, an indictment said
A Chinese husband and wife living in New Hampshire used WeChat to entice women to come to the US on tourist visas to serve in the sex industry in northern New England, according to court documents.
Sou Chao Li, 37, and his wife, Derong Maio, 37, orchestrated an elaborate scheme involving at least 27 women and hotels and rented houses across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, US prosecutors wrote.
The pair of Chinese nationals, who are both US residents, made their initial appearance in court on Thursday and will be detained until their next hearing on Tuesday.
The indictment unsealed upon their arrest indicated the pair arranged for travel for the women via WeChat and collected proceeds either themselves or through intermediaries.
Daphne Hallett Donahue, lawyer for the husband, said he was “bewildered and exhausted” when she met him in court after his arrest on Thursday. She said she could not yet comment on details of the case.
A lawyer for the wife declined to comment.
According to the indictment, the prostitution took place between July 2016 and February 2018, and the defendants controlled the movement of the women and isolated them.
The women’s services were advertised on Backpage.com, a website that was shut down earlier this year.
The couple faces multiple sex trafficking charges including defrauding and coercing two of the women. The couple took a passport from at least one woman to ensure her cooperation, the indictment said.
The most serious of the federal sex trafficking charges carry a penalty of up to life in prison upon conviction.