Man convicted in Lawrence human-trafficking case sentenced to 41 months, faces deportation

Chen Li

The 51-year-old Lawrence man who last month was found guilty of charges related to his involvement in supporting human trafficking at a Lawrence massage parlor will spend nearly 3.5 years in prison for his crimes, a Douglas County District Court judge decided Friday.

Originally charged with one count of aggravated human trafficking and one count of promoting the sale of sexual relations, Chen Li accepted a deal with prosecutors Oct. 13, pleading no contest to one count of attempted human trafficking and one count of promoting the sale of sexual relations. Chief Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild then found him guilty of the charges.

On Friday, Fairchild sentenced the man to 41 months in prison for the attempted human trafficking charge and six months for the promoting the sale of sexual relations charge, but the sentences will run concurrently, meaning Li will spend 41 months behind bars.

Under his prior charges of aggravated human trafficking, Li could have faced nearly 55 years in prison for each count. Charges relating to some of the evidence also could have been filed in federal court, Simpson said, but they would not be filed as part of the plea agreement.

Li is a Chinese citizen and not a legal resident of the United States, however, and the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office said Friday that “it is expected that Mr. Li will be deported after serving his sentence.”

Guihong Xiao

Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Mark Simpson said in October that had the case gone to trial, the state would have presented evidence to show Li’s involvement in his co-defendant, Guihong Xiao’s, alleged trafficking of women.

Simpson said that between Feb. 6 and April 28, Li “unlawfully provided financial support and transportation” supporting the forced sexual labor of women at his and Xiao’s Spring Massage business, 600 Lawrence Ave. Li allegedly helped Xiao in bringing women into the business “through the use of force by fraud.”

“He transported women to and from the airport and train station to the business to aid Guihong Xiao in (human trafficking),” Simpson said last month.

Spring Massage, at the corner of Lawrence Avenue and Sixth Street, had been listed on a number of online “erotic massage” websites. Multiple online postings reported the price for an hourlong service at Spring Massage as $60, cash only. Listed among witnesses in charging documents were the records custodians of two such websites, backpage.com and a website whose name includes a sexually explicit phrase.

Lawrence police, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security began investigating the case after receiving “complaints about suspicious activity” at Spring Massage in October 2014, the district attorney’s office said Friday.

“The investigation … revealed that Spring Massage regularly provided illegal sexual services to their customers,” the DA’s office said in a news release Friday.

After investigators interviewed Spring Massage employees, they found “that the workers did not speak English, were entirely reliant on (Li and Xiao) and were pressured against their will to provide illegal sexual services to customers,” according to the news release.

Simpson said in October that women were recruited to work at Spring Massage under the guise of a legitimate employment opportunity, but when the women arrived, they were “coerced into involuntary sexual services they did not wish to provide.”

Additionally, Simpson said he had evidence to support allegations that Li promoted the sale of sexual relations by maintaining Spring Massage, “a business where sexual relations were sold.” Simpson said Li “paid rent,” did “odd jobs” and “(took) Xiao to the bank and otherwise help(ed) her in running that business.”

This was not the first time Li has been convicted of charges relating to selling sexual relations. In 2013, Li and Xiao pleaded no contest to charges of promoting prostitution after a police raid on two massage businesses in Bonner Springs, according to municipal court records. A Bonner Springs municipal court judge found Li and Xiao guilty, and both were required to pay a $600 fine and court costs. They did not receive jail sentences because the crimes were city misdemeanor offenses.

Co-defendant Xiao is scheduled to appear in court Monday, and her jury trial is set to begin Dec. 7. She is charged with two counts of aggravated human trafficking, one count of promoting the sale of sexual relations and one count of misdemeanor selling sexual relations.

Both Li and Xiao remain in the Douglas County Jail.