KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A Chinese woman who sought political asylum in the U.S. claiming religious persecution was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in prison for running a prostitution ring out of two suburban Kansas City massage parlors.
A tearful and trembling Ling Xu, her hands and feet shackled, bowed several times and apologized to prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. and her defense attorney.
She and two other people pleaded guilty last year to coercing women to engage in prostitution at two Overland Park massage parlors and at a nearby residence. The women, originally from China, were brought from California, New York, Nevada and Arizona to work as masseuses.
Xu, 48, was sentenced to 74 months in prison on prostitution charges and two years for aggravated identity theft, the result of using her workers' IDs to wire proceeds from the operation to China.
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Prosecutors initially charged Xu, her boyfriend, Zhong Yan Liu, and her son, Cheng Tang, with human trafficking after raids on 12 businesses and four homes in Johnson County in May 2007.
Gaitan said the case appeared to be one of prostitution instead. Liu and Tang both were sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison.
The three were ordered to forfeit $452,000 in proceeds from the prostitution ring and $60,497 seized by the FBI while executing search warrants on their homes and businesses.
At sentencing Wednesday, Gaitan said Xu "appears to be a professional pimp," but said the more than 12-year sentence the government was seeking was too much.
"Serious drug dealers don't get sentenced to that amount of time," Gaitan said.
Xu's attorney, Melanie Morgan, argued that Xu's workers and customers were consenting adults and that she wasn't the only one who should be held accountable.
While the workers didn't get paid by the massage parlors for massages, the women received tips and thus weren't really victims, Morgan said. She argued that the hundreds of customers who received sexual favors at the parlors also should be held accountable.
With credit for the 29 months Xu already has served and time off for good behavior, she said, Xu could be released in 4 1/2 years. Xu faces deportation after that.
A fourth defendant, Hongmei Madole, was sentenced in April to 33 months in prison for running an Olathe parlor named Asian Touch Massage.