A federal judge in Portland ordered the indefinite detention today of a Chinese woman and her naturalized U.S. husband on sex-trafficking charges.
Federal prosecutors allege New Hampshire residents Derong Miao and her husband, Shou Chao Li, used social media app WeChat to recruit more than 25 young Chinese women as sex workers in northern New England.
Prosecutors say that lacking English skills, the women found themselves shuttled around hotels and apartments in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, sometimes deprived of travel documents and room keys. And they were trapped in debt to their employers, which prosecutors say they had to pay off through prostitution.
“Victims who were kept in a number of hotels and residences in conditions that were incredibly unfair, where they were left for hours at a time, often without food to engage in prostitution in circumstances that would suggest they had been defrauded and coerced into doing that activity,” says Darcie McElwee, an assistant U.S. attorney.
Magisrate John H. Rich III agreed with prosecutors that if freed on bail, the couple might flee the country and that they might get back into the business of coercion — whether for prostitution or to influence potential witnesses against them.
Mingli Chen, a lawyer for Shou Chao Li, says the detention order is a setback, but he argues that standards of evidence will be far stricter when an actual trial begins.
“There’s no evidence showing to the court or anybody that my client was hurting or hindering or harming anyone, [or] was forcing anyone to engage in prostitution. So in general I am optimistic,” he says.
McElwee says there is evidence that the couple were just one part of a larger, international prostitution conspiracy. She says as the case progresses, there is “a high probability” of more charges against more people.