DENVER — District Attorney Beth McCann and Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen announced Monday what they called an unprecedented indictment against two alleged human traffickers: 51-year-old Xiaoli Gao and 49-year-old Zhong Wei Zhang.
“This is the first time that we’ve charged financial crimes related to human trafficking,” McCann said at a news conference Monday morning.
She explained that her office and the police department are using new methods to pursue suspected human and labor traffickers based on financial crimes as opposed to pimping charges. Because of the new strategy, Pazen and McCann said, the victims of the two alleged traffickers – six women – will not need to testify in order to prosecute the suspects.
All six women, who are in their 40s and 50s, have returned to their homes in China, McCann said.
The accused traffickers, both Chinese nationals, were arrested in November and are currently in custody. Both are charged with violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, conspiracy to commit pimping, pimping, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, conspiracy to commit keeping a place of prostitution, keeping a place of prostitution and filing a false tax return.
Pazen explained that in the past, victims of trafficking may have been arrested for prostitution. He says using these new methods to investigate the defendants for financial crimes ensures that those responsible for sex and labor trafficking are held accountable.
“Historically, law enforcement has gotten this wrong. We were revictimizing victims of human trafficking, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future,” Pazen said.
He said this investigation was initiated by a tip from neighbors.
Milda Quintanar has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and said Monday she had no idea what was happening a block away from her home.
"You think you know your neighborhood and you really don't,” she said. “They were pretty quiet. You never saw a lot of noise, people coming … in and out, in and out. I just saw a lot of vans parked."
Patricia Sardisco, who has lived near Gao and Zhang's former home for years now, says she is still in shock.
"It's kind of weird,” she said. “I thought it was like a meth house or something or like a drug house. I did not expect it to be a brothel … that's insane."
Since March 2019, Denver police have had their own human trafficking division, and currently have 22 open cases with 58 possible victims. Pazen stressed the importance of coming forward to report suspicious activity.
“January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and this case exemplifies how human trafficking touches every community and why it’s important that if you see something, you say something,” said Chief Pazen.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline Number is 1-888-373-7888 and the Colorado Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-866-455-5075.
Gao and Zhang will be arraigned on Feb. 10 at 8:30 a.m.