WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The former owner of Asian massage parlors in Wichita admitted Thursday his role in a sex trafficking case unfolding in Kansas.
Gary Kidgell, 45, of Waltham, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to new charges of obstruction of justice and harboring an immigrant living illegally in the United States. Prosecutors agreed in exchange to drop the sex trafficking indictment against him at his Aug. 1 sentencing.
Kidgell and his wife, Wichita resident Yan Zhang, were accused of recruiting women to come to Wichita to work at massage parlors, then coercing them into prostitution. A change-of-plea hearing for Zhang is scheduled for Friday, a court notation shows.
U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren provisionally accepted the plea agreement that called for a binding sentence of 51-63 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and no fine. But the judge said he would wait to see the presentence report before making a final decision on whether to accept the plea deal.
Kidgell admitted to the court that he told other inmates in January and February, while in custody at the Butler County jail, that he intended to physically harm the law enforcement officer involved in the investigation and prosecution unless he got the outcome he wanted in the case.
He also acknowledged he interviewed with an interpreter a Chinese woman to work at a massage parlor he owned in Wichita, and then made the woman stay at his residence and pay rent.
Throughout the court proceedings, Kidgell remained heavily restrained with his hands bound tightly to a chain around his waist and with his feet shackled closely together. He quietly answered ‘Yes, your honor” as the judge explained the legal rights he was giving up with his plea and questioned him about whether he understood the proceedings. At one point, he dabbed his eyes with a tissue that his attorney offered him.
His guilty plea comes just days before the case was set Monday to go to trial.
A former Wichita massage parlor worker also ensnared in the scheme was sentenced in April to time served and probation after serving more than six months in jail. Xiuqing Tian of Framingham, Massachusetts, pleaded to reduced charges of helping induce an immigrant to reside unlawfully in the United States.
Authorities began investigating the massage parlors in 2010 after Wichita police detectives found Internet postings about sexual services. Investigators found copies for ads in Chinese-language newspapers in New York, Chicago and San Francisco offering “massage parlor hiring” in Kansas, according to court documents. The couple operated nine massage parlors in Wichita.