MEDFORD — A Boston woman accused of running four massage parlors where customers received sexual favors in exchange for cash was arraigned in Cambridge District Court on Thursday afternoon.
Dan Zheng, 47, was silent when she appeared in court for her arraignment on charges of trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, deriving support from prostitution, and procuring persons to practice prostitution. A plea of not guilty was entered on her behalf.
Dressed in a sleek black winter jacket, Zheng was expressionless as she glanced around the courtroom and listened to the proceedings with the help of a Mandarin interpreter.
Her court-appointed lawyer, Keith Durden, said Zheng had no knowledge of any illegal activity taking place at the massage parlors.
But Assistant District Attorney Carrie Spiros told a different story.
She said a lengthy undercover investigation revealed that Zheng had been running a large-scale human-trafficking operation to staff her four massage spas in Stoneham, Arlington, Dracut, and Boston.
“These were essentially fronts for commercial sexual activity,” where customers would go to receive “sexual favors, and not just a massage,” Spiros said.
Spiros said Chinese women from Flushing, N.Y., were brought in to work at the spas. At one of the locations, sleeping quarters were set up in the basement underneath the spa, she said. Investigators also found one worker who had not left the spa for 20 days.
The spas did brisk business, and in some cases there were customers waiting to get inside, Spiros said.
“These were busy spas,” she said.
Bail for Zheng was set at $100,000 cash ($1,000,000 surety) and on the condition that she wear a GPS, stay under 24/7 house arrest, surrender any passports, and have no contact with any witnesses or alleged victims involved in the case. A probable cause hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10.
Zheng is expected to face similar charges in Suffolk County, according to Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney John Pappas’s office.
Wark said Thursday in an e-mail that prosecutors expect Zheng’s Suffolk charges will be “similar to the ones in Middlesex County. Our end of the investigation suggests that clients at the Boston location were offered sexual services for a fee and that the defendant took all but a minimal amount of the workers’ earnings.”