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U.S. Seeks Accused Sex Trafficker's North Baltimore Properties

The U.S. Attorney files motion to seize properties in Oakenshawe, Charles Village and Old Goucher.

Federal law enforcement officials are seeking to seize five properties in North Baltimore owned by a woman accused of luring other women to work as prostitutes in the area, according to court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.

The properties are all at least partially owned by Di Zhang, 42, of the 100 block of Edgerton Rd, in Towson, who has been charged with human trafficking and prostitution in Baltimore County District Court. 

Zhang was arrested on March 8 along with her boyfriend, Yi Dian Dong, 54, who also faces charges of human trafficking and prostitution in Baltimore County.  

Both have been released on bails of $20,000.

Among the properties that federal prosecutors are trying to seize is one at 1404 E. Joppa Road in Towson, where much of the alleged prostitution activity occurred, according to court records.  The other properties are at 300 E. University Parkway in the Oakenshawe section of Baltimore; 2206 N. Charles St. in the Old Goucher section, and 3012 Guilford Ave., 2824 St. Paul St. and 2701 St. Paul St. in Charles Village.

Prosecutors are trying to seize the properties located in the city because they were purchased with funds that came from alleged illegal activities.

The East Joppa Road property housed the Jade Heart Health Center business that was allegedly used as a front for the prostitution ring. The North Baltimore properties are all residential properties, except for the 2206 N. Charles St. address that is listed as an office building, according to state tax records. 

Oakeshawe residents said the East University Parkway property has at times appeared to be in poor condition, but residents couldn't recall any unusual activities at the address.

According to accounts by investigators, on four dates between March 2007 and December 2011, state search and seizure warrants executed on 1404 and 1406 E. Joppa Road—Jade Heart Health Center—found evidence of prostitution including tally sheets and false-bottom containers that held unused condoms. In February 2012 the business consolidated from both locations to just the 1404 E. Joppa Road address.

Homeland Security agents interviewed men leaving the properties who confirmed prostitution was occurring at the locations. Women working at the addresses also allegedly admitted to performing sex acts for money, and said they learned about the center through job advertisements placed in the New York edition of World Journal, a daily Chinese language newspaper not sold in Maryland.

According to documents federal prosecutors filed in court, a professional translation of the ads "referenced a 'busy store with longstanding license'" in Baltimore seeking to hire "young pretty masseuse(s)" with "good massage skills" and "slight knowledge of English."

The ads, which ran in the newspaper in 2009, 2010 and 2012 were reportedly paid for by Di Zhang and Yi Dian Dong. The ads allegedly promised "good income" and "room and board." Ads offering Asian escorts and "outcalls"—prostitution services—were also placed on Backpage.com.

Investigators said a confidential informant told them in December 2011 that there are about 30 to 40 clients at Jade Heart daily, with a service fee for massages and sex acts of $70 per customer. Of that amount, the women who worked there allegedly received $10.

Court records also show that in October 2012, another informant told agents that there were approximately five women working at Jade Heart at any given time, and most came to Maryland from other states. The informant, who was employed by Jade Health, said Zhang told her that sex acts were performed in addition to legitimate massages, and though sex wasn't required, the informant would not be paid without doing so. She said she received $10 to $20 tips from each client, and Zhang charged employees $10 a day for room and board.

The informant also reportedly alleged that Zhang held her earnings and passport for "safe keeping," did not allow her to take breaks and limited her opportunities to leave the East Joppa Road facilities, except to perform prostitution services.

Employees at Jade Heart said credit card payments for services rendered were made to "Herbal Heathcare," which Zhang had allegedly previously told Homeland Security agents was a retail business for weight loss and other health matters, the documents show. Evidence of a health business was not found at either of the East Joppa Road locations.

On Feb. 26, Baltimore County Police made an undercover contact with Jade Heart and requested an "outcall" prostitute at a nearby motel, according to court records. Surveillance agents saw Zhang arrive at the location with another Asian female, but police made no further contact.

County police also stopped a man leaving Jade Heart on March 4, who admitted he received sex acts for money, agents report.

In another undercover operation, on March 8, detectives secured a room in a Hunt Valley motel, called a number listed in the erotic section of Backpage.com and requested to see one of the girls from the ad, according to Baltimore County court records. A woman came to the room, and later told a detective that she was an employee of Jade Heart and was dropped off at the location by Dong.

Detectives were conducting undercover video surveillance at Jade Heart, and observed a maroon Lexus pick up an Asian female from the location and drive straight to the Hunt Valley motel.

Court records indicate that Dong was observed at Jade Heart during several searches. On Oct. 3, 2012, he allegedly tried to run out of the location when detectives were executing a search warrant and was advised that it was known that he's one of the owners of Jade Heart.

Baltimore County land records also list Zheng Ye Zhang as an owner of the Jade Heart facility, though no charges have been filed against this individual. Federal officials declined to comment on the relationship between Zheng Zhang, Di Zhang and Dong.

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