A St. Louis Park man has been charged with sex trafficking in a case that authorities said involved women brought into Edina and Richfield for commercial sex.
St. Louis Park resident Zhaxi Taxing, 41, has been charged with two counts of engaging in the sex trafficking of an individual.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office also charged 36-year-old Sonam Tsering, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, with two counts of engaging in the sex trafficking of an individual, promoting the prostitution of an individual and receiving profits from prostitution.
“This is a highly organized, illegal operation that stretched from coast-to-coast in the United States,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement. “These women are victims who were preyed upon by the sex-trafficking operators and we are going to do everything in our power to disrupt the commercial sex trade in Hennepin County.”
All the charges are felonies. The sex trafficking charges each carry a maximum possible sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of $40,000 upon conviction. The additional prostitution-related charges for Tsering each carries a maximum possible sentence of 25 years in prison and a fine of $60,000 if he is convicted.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Jail Roster listed Taxing as in custody as of press time. A judge set bail at $100,000. His next court date is Thursday, Aug. 17. The jail roster did not list Tsering as in custody, but the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said he made his first court appearance last month. While Tsering had been charged in May, the court document containing charges for Taxing is dated July 7.
Court documents provide the following account of the allegations against the defendants:
Bloomington police investigating prostitution crimes in Hennepin County last November discovered a commercial sex advertisement online that the officers believed fit with the pattern of a human traffic organization. Officers who called the number from the advertisement were directed to a call center that then directed them to an Edina apartment, according to court documents.
One of the officers who arrived at the apartment met a woman dressed in lingerie. The officer showed the woman his badge and identified himself as a police officer. A man arrived while police were at the apartment and admitted he had arrived to visit the woman, according to the court documents.
Through a translation service, the woman said she had been from China but lived in New York. The woman said she engages in prostitution to provide money to pay for medical issues, according to the court documents. She showed an officer a large medical scar along her spine.
The woman said she had been transported from New York to Minnesota to work as a prostitute and had to give a large portion of her earnings to the human trafficking organization, according to the court documents.
Police said the apartment had been rented using a false name that had been arisen in another prostitution investigation. An apartment in Richfield had been rented using the same false name and a fake social security number, the court documents state.
Officers obtained a warrant for a phone number given to the management of the Edina apartment building. Police said they identified Taxing as a main suspect through surveillance and information obtained through the warrant.
Police said they observed Taxing moving items from the Edina apartment to the Richfield apartment after police had visited the Edina location.
Police placed a tracker on a vehicle they said Taxing had been using. Police said Taxing made frequent trips to the Richfield location. They said surveillance showed 10-to-12 male visitors arriving at the Richfield apartment for short periods of time. Police said the surveillance also showed that Taxing used a key to open the door of the Richfield apartment they suspected of being used for prostitution.
In January, officers responded to another online advertisement that they said directed them to the Richfield apartment. Officers met a woman who police said told them she engaged in prostitution “all day and night,” in the words of the court document. The woman allegedly said she paid money – $50 for every $140 she made – to Tsering.
Police seized Taxing’s cell phone as part of the investigation. Officers alleged that they found evidence on an app called WeChat that indicated that Taxing had been speaking with a woman who law enforcement had learned about through other prostitution investigations.
“The chats show that the defendant was instructed to pick up females from the airport and was given caretaking instructions for the women,” the court document’s allegations say of Taxing.
Police said Taxing had made large deposits to his bank account that totaled $52,000 in less than five months, not including other deposits that were less than $1,000 each.
Tsering allegedly admitted to police that he had been paid to take care of women working as prostitutes and that he collected money from them. The women put money in a box, which police said contained $3,000. Tsering allegedly admitted that he had traveled to the airport to pick up the woman police found at the Richfield apartment.
Police said Tsering’s bank records showed nearly $20,000 had been deposited in less than five months.