ELKTON — A New York woman has received an 18-month sentence for her role in a prostitution ring that operated at an Elkton-area spa, according to Cecil County Circuit Court records.
Maryland State Police detectives arrested the defendant — Bifang Zhong, 45, of Brooklyn, N.Y. — in December and charged her with eight sex trafficking and prostitution offenses, all of which are misdemeanors.
MSP detectives arrested Zhong and filed those charges against her after a two-month-long investigation that focused on the former Spa Aromatherapy in the 1600 block of Elkton Road (Route 279) and involved, in part, interviews with clients, surveillance operations and a raid in which detectives found a naked male customer in a “massage room” with a “scantily clad” female employee, in addition to other evidence, according to Cecil Whig archives and court records.
Visiting Retired Talbot County Circuit Court Judge Broughton M. Earnest imposed the 18-month sentence on Zhong on June 28 after she pleaded guilty to prostitution-business, or receiving earnings from prostitution, as part of a plea agreement. Assistant State’s Attorney Nathaniel Bowen prosecuted Zhong, who was represented by Elkton-based lawyer C. Thomas Brown.
State sentencing guidelines, which are based on a defendant’s criminal record, if any, and other factors, set a penalty range of probation to two years of active incarceration for Zhong.
The judge ordered Zhong to serve two years of supervised probation after she completes her 18-month term, court records show.
Prosecutors reported that Zhong is a Chinese native who was living in New York.
“Based on Zhong’s immigration status, upon the completion of her sentence in Cecil County, she will be taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Custody Enforcement,” a CCSAO spokeswoman said.
The investigation into possible prostitution activities occurring at Spa Aromatherapy started in October, prosecutors said. Using surveillance cameras, cellphone tracking and other investigative techniques, MSP detectives determined that several women were living in the building at Spa Aromatherapy and, prosecutors added, were engaging in sexual activities in exchange for money.
During the course of the investigation, detectives learned that Zhong was “functioning as representative for these women and would facilitate appointments for the sale of sexual activities,” the spokeswoman said.
In addition, Zhong would travel between New York and Elkton regularly to bring supplies to the women and return with money they earned, according to prosecutors.
On Dec. 16, investigators conducted court-approved searches of Spa Aromatherapy and a vehicle occupied by Zhong, after she had been observed leaving Spa Aromatherapy, prosecutors reported.
During a search, investigators found “significant evidence of an ongoing prostitution ring, including thousands of dollars in cash contained in Zhong’s purse that was portioned into several individual envelopes,” the spokeswoman said.
In addition, while executing the search warrant at Spa Aromatherapy, investigators found two women of Chinese descent who were housed there, according to prosecutors. No charges were filed against the two women, in light of disclosures that they made to investigators, prosecutors reported.