ST. PAUL - The last of four suspects involved in an international sex trafficking ring that preyed on foreign-born women in Minnesota and stretched as far as North Dakota has been sentenced for her role in the operation.
Sophia Wang Navas, 50, was sentenced in Washington County District Court Friday, Nov. 9, to more than 12 years in prison on one count of racketeering and a second count of aiding and abetting sex-trafficking.
She also agreed to forfeit all criminal proceeds from the enterprise and pay fines and assessments totaling nearly $20,000, according to the Ramsey County Attorney's Office.
"This brings to a close a significant joint effort between the Ramsey and Washington County Attorney's Offices to curtail the trafficking of human beings in our region," Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a statement. "The victims in this case were especially vulnerable, as they were trapped in a foreign country where they barely spoke the language and sold for sex."
"More needs to be done in our community to stop the demand which drives all of this," Choi continued. "We can all start by thinking about how we raise boys and for men to be involved in the solution."
Navas received the most lengthy sentence of those implicated in the operation. The Chino Hills, Calif., woman helped lead the criminal organization from her base on the West Coast, authorities say.
Of the other defendants, Hong Jing and Dongzhu Jiang received 8 1/2 and 4 1/2 year sentences, respectively. Fangyao Wu, who authorities say played the most limited role, received 20 years probation. Jing and Wu are also from California. Jiang, of Blaine, was the enterprise's local connection.
The sex-trafficking ring ran from February 2015 until February 2017 and involved nearly 20,000 advertisements for sexual services placed on Backpage.com, according to legal documents.
Investigators documented multiple places of operation including Cottage Grove, Oakdale, Maplewood, St. Paul, Blaine and St. Louis Park.
Jiang coordinated the logistics of the enterprise in Minnesota and North Dakota, finding establishments and private homes for the women to work out of and collecting the money paid to them by clients, charges say.
He told officers that the women, who ranged in age from 32 to 45, were forced to earn at least $800 a day or risk getting fired. He also said they had to pay for food, housing and transportation.
Most of the women were foreign born, mainly Chinese or Korean nationals. Jiang admitted that some of them were raped, beaten and robbed by clients.