Sheriff: 10 arrests made in Albany County during human trafficking investigation

ALBANY, N.Y. – Albany County Sheriff Craig D. Apple, Sr. says the office made a large arrest as part of a human trafficking investigation.

On Friday in Albany County Court, ten people were arraigned on charges of either Prostitution or the Educational Law Violation of Unauthorized Practice of Profession. The Sheriff’s Department confirms that nine women and a man ranging from 24 to 55 years of age were arrested Thursday night.

The male, Chi Chick Cheng, is charged with promoting prostitution. Six of the suspects were charged with prostitution, and four were charged with unauthorized practice of a profession. All pleaded not guilty.

None of the ten arrested are from the Capital Region. Nine are from New York City. The sheriff was very clear in saying that the arrests are about more than just prostitution.

“This information came to light and as January is Human Trafficking Awareness month, we felt it was an appropriate time to address,” he said. “Human Trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Traffickers profit from the control and exploitation of others and will not be tolerated.”

On Thursday, January 15, the Sheriffs Criminal Investigations Unit conducted undercover operations at four Chinese operated spas located in Colonie. Two were on Central Avenue, one was on Everett Road, and the fourth was on Route 9.

The investigation began about one year ago when his office became aware that the parlors didn’t have the proper licenses. Investigators answered advertisements which had been placed on the website Backpage which offers full service massages.

Once the undercover investigators entered the spas, they were greeted by Asian women, who would lead them to a private room to conduct the massages. Once in the confines of the private room, the women would offer sexual encounters for an extra fee.

Authorities said an FBI translator was needed to communicate with the suspects which caused some delays in the arraignment Friday morning.

“These arrests stem from an investigation to uncover Human Trafficking and were initiated with the intent to help identify victims being exploited as sex workers. We plan to offer counseling to help these women. Victims in these cases are typically uncooperative, but we hope they can be rescued and that’s our goal,” Sheriff Apple stated. “The reason for starting this investigation was to identify potential victims of human trafficking. Although the suspects have all been charged, if they are found to be victims, we will work with the District Attorney to aid them.”

Even though Apple said some of the women are committing crimes, many of them don’t have the ability to reach out for help. In some cases, it’s out of fear, according to Apple.

“Are some of these people in fact victims? You can’t tell me that they all want to be prostitutes,” he said.

Apple said climbing the ladder to charge those running the ring is nearly impossible leaving police to deal with low-level offenders such as victims themselves.

“We can’t charge them with human trafficking because they are the ones that are being trafficked,” he said.

But police are determined to not give up, so shutting down the four “massage parlors” and getting the ten people off the streets is an important step.

“By far from done,” Apple said. “We’re going to continue to combat it, and it’s not something we want in our county.”

Sheriff Apple said that other agencies across the state and nationally should be doing more to help these victims. Members from the F.B.I and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are assisting with this investigation.

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