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Major sex ring broken, police say

WILMINGTON — Authorities say they believe they have smashed a widespread sex trafficking ring that lured women from across the Eastern seaboard into a nightmare of working as prostitutes every day at massage parlors and spas in Massachusetts while they lived in squalor.

The end to the operation, in which women were allegedly bused into the Commonwealth from out of state and forced into sexual slavery north of Boston, is believed to have come with the arrests Monday by State Police and federal agents of Xiu J. Chen, 32, of Medford, and Ronald ­Keplin, 57, of Woburn.

Xiu J. Chen and Ronald Keplin to be in court Tuesday.

Xiu J. Chen and Ronald Keplin to be in court Tuesday.

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The pair were charged with running a lucrative sex trafficking ring out of massage parlors in communities including Bedford, Billerica, Medford, Reading, Wilmington, and Woburn.

“We allege that these women were kept in deplorable conditions,” Attorney General Martha Coakley said at a press conference at Wilmington police headquarters. “. . . And then they were told to work seven days a week in various locations.”

Working phone numbers for the homes of Chen and Keplin could not be located Monday, and it was not known if they had hired lawyers.

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Coakley said none of the victims are believed to be minors, and she described an operation in which about 10 women worked at each of the parlors on an average day, with some moving from place to place.

But the attorney general and other officials at the news conference released only limited details of the alleged scheme and did not say how the women were pulled into the sex ring.

Officials later said, however, that the defendants made hundreds of thousands of dollars from the illicit work.

“Obviously, it’s a for-profit business,” said Police Chief ­Michael Begonis of Wilmington. “These folks make a lot of money.”

On Monday, officials also laid out the typical modus operandi of traffickers in such cases.

Michael Netherland — deputy special agent in charge of the US ­Immigration and Customs Enforcement homeland security investigations division in Boston, which assisted in the probe — said traffickers often lure victims “with false promises of well-paying jobs.”

He said that many victims come from foreign nations and that they cannot speak English and that traffickers often confiscate their travel identity documents and threaten to harm their families financially and physically if they try to escape.

Coakley would not say how the women were allegedly kept in sexual servitude but echoed Netherland’s remarks on the usual tactics.

She said victims may be given drugs or alcohol and told that “if they don’t cooperate and they don’t work, that their families will suffer or they will suffer.”

Calls to numbers listed for the six parlors and spas that officials identified as prostitution fronts were not returned on Monday.

Chen and Keplin are scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Somerville District Court on charges of trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, deriv­ing support from prostitution, and keeping a house of ill fame.

“The victimization of anyone, especially women, is reprehensible and not the kind of behavior that will be tolerated in Bedford or in any of our communities,” Police Chief Robert Bongiorno of Bedford said in a statement released by Coakley’s office.

Police Chief Leo A. Sacco Jr. of Medford said in the statement that while many people view human trafficking as a problem in other countries, “today’s events demonstrate that it does take place locally, in cities and towns, large and small, right here in the US.”

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@
globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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