October 22, 2012
Police charge 2 in alleged sex-trade worker extortion
By Bill Kaufmann QMI Agency
CALGARY -- Police have charged two people and are seeking one of them for allegedly extorting local sex-trade workers.
They say they’re eager to wrap up the 11-month investigation in which the couple made long distance phone calls, exploiting police in making fake reports of women in distress, Staff Sgt. Robert Rutledge said.
“They were using police to further their financial gains and there’s always legitimate victims out there who could use police for their calls,” Rutledge said of the story that was first reported by QMI Agency last week.
Cops say the 51 calls over the last 11 months bogusly reported women held captive at knife or gunpoint appeared to be an attempt to disrupt competition in the sex trade.
When police arrived at the motel or residence cited by the caller, they’d find sex-trade workers under no distress.
They also say escorts were threatened that the calls would be made unless they worked for the accused.
“This was an attempt to control the market in Calgary and across Canada -- they’re attempting to eliminate competition,” Rutledge said.
“Many times the answer was ‘no’ ... some have been the recipient of seven calls.”
Charged with two counts of extortion and four counts of public mischief is Ontario resident Wen Zhan Li, 29, who’s now in custody.
Police have issued a Canada-wide warrant for Rong Zhang, 37, who’s female, 5-foot-3 with black hair and brown eyes.
The two were a married couple who recently split up, police say.
Since Li was arrested Oct. 14, three more of the calls have been made, allegedly by Zhang, who police don’t believe is in Alberta, Rutledge said.
Attempts have been made, he added, to determine if any of the targeted escorts who are of Asian descent are victims of human trafficking, but the women haven’t been co-operative.
“They don’t see themselves as victims, they don’t have a fear of what they’re doing,” Rutledge said.
Anyone with information on Zhang’s whereabouts is asked to call police at 403-266-1234 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.