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Kan. massage parlor owner denied release from jail

Published on -8/14/2013, 4:01 PM

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A massage parlor owner accused of coercing women into prostitution recruited those who spoke only Mandarin Chinese so they would be isolated in Wichita, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday.

Details of the case against 44-year-old Gary H. Kidgell, of Waltham, Mass., surfaced during a detention hearing in federal court in Wichita. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren refused to free him pending trial, upholding an earlier magistrate's order finding that Kidgell was a flight risk and a danger to the community.

A six-count indictment charges Kidgell; his wife Yan Zhang, 49, of Wichita; and employee Xiuqing Tian, 42, of Framingham, Mass., with a conspiracy to recruit women and coerce them to engage in commercial sex acts. The scheme allegedly started in June 2009 and lasted until at least August 2011. His co-defendants are also in federal custody.

The government alleges Kidwell and two co-defendants worked together and shared resources to operate nine Asian massage parlors in Wichita: AG Spa, Sun Chi Spa, Dragon Spa, Eastern Massage, Oriental Massage, Phoenix Spa, Sunflower Massage, Massage 600, and Ocean Spa.

It was not immediately clear how many women were employed at the nine massage parlors. The indictment lists four women, identified only by their initials, who were allegedly forced to engage in prostitution.

During a 2010 search of the massage parlors, officers found a notebook containing translations for sexually explicit phrases. Also found during the raid was copy for ads in a Chinese-language newspaper in New York, Chicago and San Francisco offering "massage parlor hiring" in Kansas.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Hart also told the court Wednesday that once the women arrived in Wichita Kidgell forced them to perform sex acts at the massage parlors in order to survive. He reimbursed only half of their air fare, then charged them rent to live at his house. The women were allowed to keep only $10 out from each $45 massage they performed. To get more money, they had to perform sex acts on customers.

The government contends all but one woman who worked at the massage parlors spoke only Mandarin Chinese, a move calculated to isolate them from the Wichita community: "It inhibited these women's ability to get help," Hart said.

But defense attorney David Freund disputed the prosecution's characterization that the women were isolated, arguing they could have called anywhere on a cellphone.

His defense attorney told the court he had not yet seen the government's evidence in the case, but urged the court to release his client on electronic monitoring and suggested the government could put him on a "no-fly list" to prevent him from leaving the country.

The prosecutor told the court Kidgell had a history of domestic violence and would also engage in "physical confrontations" with some of the women, noting one incident in which a woman who wanted to leave was beaten and locked in the bathroom.

After the Wichita Police Department "put the heat on" with two different undercover investigations, Kidgell moved his operation to Boston, Hart said.

Records obtained by the government show the Wichita massage parlors were put up for sale in an advertisement touting annual income in the $100,000 range, he said.

In urging the court to keep Kidwell in custody, the prosecutor noted that the sex trafficking continued when Kidwell moved his operations to Boston. His estranged wife, Zhang, stayed in Wichita and had been charged with prostitution in another case just prior to her arrest.

The judge ultimately left intact the earlier detention order, saying that given what he heard at the hearing the magistrate judge made the correct decision.

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