A husband and wife are behind bars, charged Thursday with coercing two women into performing sex acts at Nassau massage parlors in a case the county's top prosecutor called an example of "what slavery looks like in 2015."
Authorities arrested Zhaowei Yin, 49, and his wife, Shuwen Ai, 46, both of Flushing, before their Mineola court arraignment on charges including sex trafficking, labor trafficking and promoting prostitution.
Through a Mandarin-speaking interpreter, both Chinese nationals pleaded not guilty. A judge set bail for each at $250,000 cash or bond and ordered them to surrender their passports. Both defendants face up to 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison if convicted of the top count.
"Human trafficking is the modern day slavery," acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said at a news conference later. "It is what slavery looks like in 2015."
Authorities said the defendants, between May 2013 and January 2014, hired two women who answered an ad in a Chinese newspaper seeking massage parlor workers. They picked the women up in Queens and brought them to two Nassau businesses, forcing them "to commit sexual acts," Singas said.
Prosecutors identified the businesses, both now closed, as Lucy's Spa in West Hempstead and Panda Foot Spa in Franklin Square.
Authorities contend ads on backpage.com brought in customers. The defendants threatened one woman with deportation, and warned the other they would publish naked photos of her if she didn't do as told, prosecutors said.
Singas said one victim endured the abuse for a month, and the other's ordeal lasted five or six days. The women were often forced to sleep at the businesses, and one never was paid, authorities said.
The investigation started when undercover detectives arrested the two women on prostitution charges, authorities said. Their cases went to Nassau's Human Trafficking Intervention Court and charges were later dismissed. Part of a statewide initiative, the program started in 2012 and provides support services and handles cases for defendants facing prostitution charges after being forced into the sex industry.
"Today's arrests should send a clear message to those monsters who prey on individuals they feel are without a voice: Sexual exploitation in Nassau County will not be tolerated," acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said.
Attorney John Healy of Garden City, who represents Zhaowei, said in court the couple has a 9-year-old daughter. Later, he said his client denies any wrongdoing.
Attorney Christopher Graziano of Mineola, who represents Shuwen, said the defendants have been in the country three or four years and his client "certainly denies running any sort of massage parlor or forcing anybody to engage in sexual acts."