A woman accused of promoting prostitution in a strip-mall storefront pleaded guilty to her charges Friday in Durham County court.
Lian Jin Xu was charged in April after Neon Moon Spa, an illicit massage parlor she operated, was raided by investigators who had determined illegal sexual activity was taking place there.
Xu pleaded guilty to three counts each of promoting prostitution and conspiracy to promote prostitution.
“I had to plea because I wanted to go home,” she told Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin through an interpreter. “I want to go home quickly so I can help my son in school.”
Xu’s attorney said her client’s son is studying in New York.
Hardin asked Xu if she knew by pleading guilty she would be giving up her right to a trial by jury and might get deported. Promoting prostitution is a deportable offense, he said.
Xu began to cry, and Hardin called for a recess for her to compose herself and consult with her lawyer. The recess lasted about an hour.
When the hearing resumed, Xu was sentenced to three years of probation. If she violates the terms of her probation, she faces from 4 years to 7 years and 3 months in prison.
Xu will have an ankle tracker to keep tabs on her. She may not travel to New York or China without authorization, and she must give up her passport.
She can’t operate a massage parlor again either.
Investigators spent a year building a case against the cash-only business off South Miami Boulevard, where they said men paid $70 for an hour-long massage and a $40 tip for a “happy ending,” The News & Observer has previously reported.
The Sheriff’s Office is still looking for Quan Chun Li, 56, and Kwang Koo, 65, who are also charged in the case, the newspaper reported
According to the warrants, Li was listed the owner of Neon Moon and is a known Chinese mafia associate who brings women to North Carolina from New York. Li was arrested and indicted for promoting prostitution in another massage parlor in Apex in 2016. That case is still pending.
Nancy Hagan of Project No Rest, a program housed at the UNC School of Social Work, went on the Neon Moon Spa raid with law-enforcement officers, The N&O reported. She tried to help the three women inside, who spoke Korean and Mandarin, with a video in Mandarin, but said they declined most of the assistance she offered.
The state could not press trafficking charges against Xu because the women involved did not want to testify and asked to go back to New York, Assistant District Attorney Kendra Montgomery-Blinn said.
To report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.