A New Hampshire husband and wife used a messaging system popular in China to entice women to come to the U.S. on tourist visas to serve in the sex industry in northern New England, according to court documents.
Sou Chao Li, 37, and his wife, Derong Maio, 37, orchestrated an elaborate scheme involving at least 27 women and hotels and rented houses across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, prosecutors wrote.
The pair made their initial appearance in court Thursday and will remain detained until their next hearing on Tuesday.
The indictment unsealed Thursday upon their arrest indicated the pair arranged for travel for the women and collected proceeds either themselves or through intermediaries, the documents indicate.
Daphne Hallett Donahue, attorney for the husband, said he was “bewildered and exhausted” when she met him in court after his arrest Thursday. She said she couldn’t yet comment on details of the case.
An attorney for the wife declined comment.
According to the indictment, the prostitution took place between July 2016 and February 2018, and the defendants controlled the movement of the women and isolated them.
The women’s services were advertised on Backpage.com, a website that was shut down earlier this year.
The couple faces multiple sex trafficking charges including defrauding and coercing two of the women. The couple took a passport from at least one woman to ensure her cooperation, the indictment said.
The most serious of the federal sex trafficking charges carry a penalty of up to life in prison upon conviction.