Xiu Chen, a 32-year-old Medford woman, and Ronald Keplin, a 57-year-old Woburn man, will be charged in Middlesex Superior Court with multiple counts of human trafficking, prostitution, and money laundering. The pair allegedly used massage parlors located in Bedford, Medford, Reading, Wilmington, Woburn and Billerica as fronts for prostitution and other criminal activity, according to a statement from the Attorney General’s office. Keplin and Chen allegedly recruited women from New York and housed them in poor conditions. Prosecutors say that the women were sleeping five to a room with few mattresses on the floor. Each woman was allegedly servicing an average of 10 clients per day. Some of the women were allegedly sleeping in the massage parlors, and Keplin and Chen allegedly kept most of the profits for themselves. Prosecutors allege that the pair advertised on websites known for prostitution advertisements.
The Massachusetts human trafficking statute was signed into law in 2011. At that time, Massachusetts was one of only three states in the country that did not have a human trafficking law. The law provides for increased penalties for those accused of sex trafficking, safe harbor provisions for minors involved in sex work, and civil causes of action. Sex trafficking charges are prosecuted aggressively, primarily because the offense often involves the sexual exploitation of children. This pair will need the representation of an experienced Massachusetts sex crimes lawyer.
Massachusetts now has a human trafficking task force. Because of the Internet, what were formerly “underground” operations are more accessible to law enforcement. Undercover law enforcement officials are using certain websites to investigate prostitution. Undercover police officers either pose as sex workers on the Internet or pose as persons soliciting sex for a fee. Before the human trafficking law came into effect, these types of investigations would more commonly result in simple sex for a fee charges at the district court level. Now, initiatives encourage more thorough investigation into the bigger picture, and more serious charges are increasingly common. For instance, in March of 2012, four persons were charged in connection with a Boston area human trafficking ring. In October 2012, three were charged in connection with a Wellesley and Revere sex trafficking and prostitution operation. In December of 2012, another two were charged with human trafficking in the Greater Boston area.
Here, there is no indication that the defendants used children in the alleged operation, so a human trafficking charge would carry a punishment of at least five and up to 20 years in the state prison. Had a child been involved, the defendants would be facing potential life sentences. For the purposes of the human trafficking law, persons under the age of 18 are considered children, even though the legal age of consent in Massachusetts is 16.