A New Hampshire woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to running a sex trafficking operation throughout northern New England through which she and her husband persuaded more than two dozen women living in China and the U.S. to work for them as prostitutes.
Derong Miao and her husband, Shou Chao Li, both 39 and of Concord, who in 2016 set up a prostitution ring using rented houses and motels in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, according to court documents. Many of the women Derong recruited to work as prostitutes came to the United States on B-2 non-immigrant visas that allow foreigners entry for pleasure, tourism or medical treatment but not to take legitimate jobs.
Derong entered her plea in U.S. District Court in Portland.
The prosecution version of events to which Derong pleaded guilty did not say how many women worked for her as prostitutes. The Associated Press reported at the time of her arrest that 27 women had been enticed to work as prostitutes with the promise of earning thousands of dollars.
The couple rented houses on Verrill Street and Brighton Avenue in Portland and in Manchester, New Hampshire, for short periods in 2016, according to court documents. Derong also moved the women working for them from motel to motel every few days. The prostitution ring advertised on internet sites, including Backpage.com, which federal authorities shut down in 2018.
Although some of the Chinese women who worked for Derong believed when they first arrived in the U.S. that they could be employed outside of prostitution, they weren’t able to find jobs that paid enough to live on thier own. Many also owed debts for their travel to the U.S. The women spoke very little English and had no contacts in Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont.
The couple was indicted by a federal grand jury on Nov. 30, 2018. They have been held without bail since their arrests in December 2018. The case was delayed because of its complexity, the need for Chinese translators and the coronavirus pandemic.
Derong, who used half a dozen aliases, pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy and four counts of transportation for purposes of prostitution. In exchange for her pleas, the U.S. Attorney’s office will dismiss two counts of sex trafficking by fraud or coercion and one count of tranportation for purposes of prostitution at her sentencing.
She also agreed not to appeal her sentence to the First U.S. District Court of Appeals in Boston if it is not longer than four years and nine months.
A sentencing date has not been set.
She faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and up to 10 years in prison on the transportation charges. If Derong had been convicted of the sex trafficking charges, she would have faced between 15 years and life in prison. She faces a fine of up to $250,000 on all the charges to which she pleaded guilty.
Derong is expected to be deported to China after she completes her prison term.