LOS ANGELES — Four Chinese nationals are in custody today on federal and state charges for their alleged involvement in brothels in Monterey Park and San Gabriel that recruited female Chinese to work as prostitutes, U.S. immigration authorities said.
Jian "David'' Guo, 42, of Arcadia; Huagui "Candy'' Lotto, 53, of Rowland Heights; Lotto's husband, Phillip Fu, 47, also of Rowland Heights; and Yibin Zhang, 45, of Monterey Park were arrested late Saturday by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency said.
The arrests followed search warrants being served at the two alleged brothels, the defendants' residences, and a private residence occupied by the brothels' female employees, according to ICE.
Lotto, the alleged manager of the Monterey Park brothel, and Zhang, who purportedly served as an enforcer and part-time manager at the business, are charged in a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to import and harbor aliens for prostitution, ICE said.
Fu, the alleged overseas recruiter, is charged in a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, according to the agency.
Fu's lawyer, Glen Fleetwood, told KPCC, "I vehemently deny these allegations." He said that Fu "looks forward to his day in court where we will disprove these false allegations."
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has filed a felony complaint charging Guo, the alleged manager of the San Gabriel location, with pimping and pandering by procuring and keeping or residing in house of ill fame, ICE said.
During the operation, one female Chinese national believed to be employed by the defendants was taken into ICE custody on immigration violations.
The arrests are the result of a nine-month investigation by federal authorities into the alleged prostitution enterprise that advertised primarily through word of mouth and personal referrals.
Court documents contend the defendants engaged in various types of immigration fraud to recruit their female employees — many of whom had valid student visas — including using fake documents and setting up fraudulent marriages, ICE said.
According to a case affidavit, Fu told U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Los Angeles International Airport in May that he was returning from a six-week trip to China to set up his business — a cultural exchange that recruits underprivileged Chinese students to study in the United
When officers searched Fu's effects, they discovered identification documents, money transfer receipts and bank statements that did not belong to him, authorities said.
"Illegal ventures like this degrade the quality of life in our neighborhoods as well as the women involved,'' said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of ICE's office of Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles.
"ICE will continue to work closely with its law enforcement partners to attack and dismantle these kinds of enterprises that prey on the vulnerable and often bring other criminal activity into the area.''
The federal charge of importing and harboring an alien for purposes of prostitution carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, while conspiracy to commit marriage fraud is punishable by up to five years in prison, ICE said.
The state charges -- both of which call for mandatory state prison commitment upon conviction -- carry a maximum sentence of seven years and four months.