On Tuesday, September 5, 2023, Zigui “Lisa” Zheng, 47, of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania was the second person arrested in Cumberland County’s OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking. Zheng was arrested and charged with multiple counts of Operating a Corrupt Organization, Dealing in Unlawful Proceeds, Prostitution, and Trafficking in Persons. Zheng is currently being held in Cumberland County Prison on $250,000 bail.
As we previously reported, on August 31, 2023, the Cumberland County Human Trafficking Task Force executed search warrants at five massage parlors located throughout the county as a part of their human trafficking operation, OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking. This sting was a part of a larger operation called, “Impact Demand”, which targeted ten massage parlors across Cumberland, York, and Dauphin Counties to “identify purportedly legitimate ‘Asian’ massage therapy businesses.” The investigation into these establishments was primarily initiated after law enforcement authorities received several complaints from the public.
Under OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking, it was determined that the five massage parlors searched in Cumberland County were linked to one another, despite appearing as separate businesses. Min Dong, 54, of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania was previously arrested and charged with Operating a Corrupt Organization and Dealing in Unlawful Proceedings, as well as other charges, in connection to the operation. During these searches, the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office found significant amounts of cash and other evidence of labor and sex trafficking.
While law enforcement authorities were on sight to search the businesses, officers observed various men trying to enter the parking lots of the massage parlors. Following Zheng’s arrest, Cumberland County District Attorney Seán McCormack shared a crucial sentiment, stating “if there is any message that we want to get across it is this, we are not forgetting that the customers are the ones who fuel this industry. We are watching you come and go from these establishments, and we know who you are.”
Since 2022, the Cumberland County Human Trafficking Task Force has conducted five operations as part of Impact Demand. According to DA McCormack, the purpose of these operations is to identify and arrest sex buyers. All profits made by sex traffickers come out of the wallets of those who purchase sex. Sex buyers drive sex trafficking by putting money into the hands of sex traffickers who exploit individuals trapped in the life. Since the start of OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking and operations like it, 45 individuals have been arrested throughout south-central Pennsylvania.
Buying sex and sexual exploitation are interconnected, therefore, law enforcement must employ their resources to target sex buyers, rather than those being exploited in prostitution. Sex trafficking is a market-driven criminal industry that is based on supply and demand. Buyers of commercial sex increase the demand for commercial sex and provide an economic incentive for traffickers, who seek to gain profits by exploiting trafficking victims.
The CSE Institute commends the efforts of the Cumberland County Trafficking Task Force, DA McCormack, and investigators on their work to target sex buyers and support survivors of sexual exploitation. As part of the operation, the task force partnered with local community programs dedicated to providing resources to help survivors of labor and sex trafficking. Additionally, DA McCormack stressed the differences between the parlors that were the target of the searches conducted during OPERATION: Closed2Trafficking and legitimate massage therapy businesses. The current pervasiveness of corporate secrecy facilitates the ongoing manipulation and exploitation of victims in illicit massage parlors. Thus, more robust legal regulations are needed to create stronger corporate transparency.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.