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April 12, 2013

'Madam' gets five years

PEABODY — A New York woman who at one point was running at least 20 brothels out of apartments all over Massachusetts, including one in Peabody where two women were arrested and later jailed in 2005, was sentenced this week to five years in prison.

But before her sentencing Tuesday, Hong Wei, known as “Mrs. Chen” to the young Chinese women she lured into prostitution, invoked the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in a plea for mercy.

“Lately, like most Americans, I was saddened by the shocking tragedy in Newtown, Conn.,” she wrote in a letter to U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole. “The event reinforced my awareness that money is not everything. Family safety, unity and peace are the real fortune of life.”

Prosecutors say Wei, 41, ran a prostitution ring from at least 2004 until 2010, when she and her co-defendants were arrested following an investigation.

As part of a plea agreement, Wei admitted to charges of conspiracy, inducing prostitution, aiding and abetting forced labor, and harboring aliens. A human trafficking charge was dropped. Prosecutors had sought a sentence of more than seven years.

After completing her prison term, Wei faces deportation.

Wei, who, according to her lawyer, arrived in the United States in 1997, advertised jobs for women in Chinese-language newspapers, telling them that they would either provide “massage” or “nanny” services.

The women would be moved around three times a month so that they did not know exactly where they were at any given time. Associates would be sent to collect cash from the women.

When arrested, Wei had some $92,000 in a bank account. But her attorney, in a sentencing memorandum, said that much of the money Wei made as a madam went to pay for the education of her son, to assist a brother with financial problems and to fuel a gambling addiction.

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