Arrest made in joint human-trafficking investigation

In August 2018, the Toronto Police Service Human Trafficking Enforcement Team was contacted by the Portland Federal Bureau of Investigation Child Exploitation Task Force in regard to an alleged organized crime group that was operating a prostitution ring. The investigation had a nexus to United States, Canada and Australia.

The primary suspect of the FBI’s investigation was a man named Zongtao Chen, aka Zong Tao Chen, aka Mark Chen. It was believed that he was residing in the Greater Toronto Area.

According to the indictments, Zongtao Chen headed a criminal enterprise that recruited women, primarily from China, to travel to the U.S. and elsewhere to engage in prostitution and other sex trafficking activities. Within the cities the organization was operating, a boss would oversee and manage a local brothel in a hotel or apartment complex. Customers seeking to engage in acts of illegal prostitution would call a number listed on supermatchescort.com or related websites, or send a message by text, email or WeChat, an encrypted internet messaging service based in China. The organization employed dispatchers who would receive incoming requests from potential customers to set up dates. The dispatchers would coordinate and schedule the dates with women working at the various brothels.

Dispatchers used a computer program to schedule and track all of the prostitution activity. The computer program had a customer database that logged more than 30,000 customer phone numbers with details from previous dates.

Members of the Human Trafficking Enforcement Team commenced an investigation into Zongtao Chen in regard to possible offences occurring in Canada connected to the FBI investigation. Zongtao Chen, 46, was located and found to be living in the Greater Toronto Area. As a result of the investigation in Toronto, members of the Human Trafficking Enforcement Team, applied for search warrants for properties and vehicles related to Zongtao Chen.

On Jan. 15, a multi-jurisdictional takedown operation was conducted in the United States, Canada and Australia. Members of the Toronto Human Trafficking Enforcement Team, Fugitive Squad and the Financial Crimes Unit executed several search warrants and located Zongtao Chen inside one of the properties. He was placed under arrest on a provisional arrest warrant for the indictments in Oregon.

He appeared in Superior Court, at 361 University Avenue, on Jan. 16, in relation to the extradition order by the United States government.

The Toronto Police Service Human Trafficking Enforcement Team is continuing their investigation into Zongtao Chen regarding offences that have taken place in Toronto. If anyone has information relating to Chen regarding his human-trafficking activities, contact Toronto Police. Officers are concerned there may be more victims.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-7474, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at 222tips.com, online on the Facebook Leave a Tip page, or text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637). Download the free Crime Stoppers Mobile App on iTunes, Google Play or Blackberry App World.

Human trafficking includes every person who recruits, transports, transfers, receives, holds, conceals or harbours a person, or exercises control, direction or influence over the movements of a person, for the purpose of exploiting them or facilitating their exploitation, for a sexual purpose or a forced labour purpose. Victims can be men, women or children; can be Canadian citizens; and can be moved across local, provincial or national borders. They can be coerced through violence or the threat of violence against family and friends. The Human Trafficking Enforcement Team of Sex Crimes is dedicated to investigating these crimes against vulnerable members of society. For more information, visit the sex crimes website.

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