Members of a Chinese crime group have been sentenced for running a string of brothels across the country including Kent.
Dongning Zhang, 35, of Gloucester Place in Marylebone, south-west London, led the operation and was jailed for four years and three months after pleading guilty to controlling prostitution and money laundering.
His wife Shuangyan Hu, 37, of St Kilda’s Road in Harrow, London, was the second in command. She was arrested during the initial raid on Zhang’s home and found to be in possession of £8,000 cash as part of an investigation by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate.
Hu pleaded not guilty to the same offences as her husband but was convicted following a trial at Maidstone Crown Court. She was sentenced to three and a half years.
Mobile phone evidence showed the couple regularly boasted about their wealth and discussed arrangements for exploiting women.
The final person sentenced was Kai Shao, 62, of Lime Hill Road, Tunbridge Wells, who was linked to two brothels raided in Tunbridge Wells and took instructions from Zhang on the day-to-day running of the business.
He acted as a manager for the premises and would take cash earned by the sex workers while also acting as a security guard and cook.
Shao was jailed for one year and eight months after also pleading guilty to controlling prostitution and money laundering.
The court heard how on Thursday 10 May 2018 officers carried out a warrant at a brothel in Rock Villa Road, Tunbridge Wells, where they located Shao and a female sex worker.
On Wednesday 4 July 2018 a warrant was carried out at a second brothel in Lime Hill Road, Tunbridge Wells, where officers seized £1,500 cash and items consistent with the sex trade. A sex worker who claimed to be working voluntarily was also present.
Two mobile telephones recovered from the address contained numbers for a contact named Leo, which detectives knew was a name used by the gang leader Zhang.
He was not present when officers raided his home address in London on Wednesday 25 July 2018, but a large amount of compelling evidence was seized including £8,000 cash and sales ledgers relating to prostitution.
After several months attempting to evade arrest, Zhang was located in the capital on Monday 3 December 2018 and taken into custody.
The three offenders were all sentenced on Friday 21 June.
Senior investigating officer Detective Sergeant Kris Eberlein said: ‘People who run brothels prey on the most vulnerable members of society with little regard for their safety or welfare. Our priority in tackling such offending is to ensure those who are being exploited are provided with any support they may require.
‘We also know that the running of brothels has links to people-trafficking and modern slavery, placing victims in dangerous situations with complete strangers in unfamiliar locations far from home.
‘Dongning Zhang, Shuangyan Hu and Kai Shao were involved in the running of a number of brothels across the country and had no other legitimate explanation for why such large sums of money were recovered by police during the warrants that were executed.