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Towson woman arrested on prostitution charges

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Di Zhang, the Towson woman whose arrest for allegedly operating a brothel on East Joppa Road sparked federal efforts to seize nearly $2 million worth of her real estate, has been arrested on prostitution and human trafficking charges in Montgomery County.

Zhang, 43, was awaiting trial on similar charges stemming from a March 2013 raid of her massage parlor, Jade Heart Health, when police said she was caught receiving money from a prostitute working in a Montgomery County motel in February.

The new arrest could affect talks to settle the Baltimore County criminal charges, as well as a federal civil forfeiture case to seize four houses and an office building that the U.S. attorney's office says were purchased by Zhang and a co-owner with the proceeds from prostitution.

In a letter to the federal judge hearing the civil forfeiture case, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein wrote that, according to Robert Biddle, one of the lawyers representing the property owners, "the plea agreement in the related Baltimore County criminal case has fallen apart."

"Also, we learned that … the defendant in the related criminal case was arrested recently in Montgomery County for a similar offense," Rosenstein wrote Feb. 28. He added that "we still feel that we are making progress toward a resolution" of the forfeiture case.

Brian Thompson, Zhang's attorney in the Baltimore County case, denied that the new arrest has "changed anything."

"We are in active plea discussion with the state's attorney," Thompson said. "The state hasn't changed its plea offer. My client maintains her innocence but is — as any criminal defendant should — going to listen to what the government has to offer."

The Baltimore County state's attorney's office, Biddle and another attorney listed as representing Zhang in the Montgomery County case did not return calls for comment.

According to charging documents, police were called to the Red Roof Inn in Gaithersburg on Feb. 6 for an unrelated matter and were told about a woman believed to be working as a prostitute in one of the rooms. The woman told police she was a prostitute working for someone she knew as "Wendy," according to the documents filed in Montgomery County District Court. On Feb. 10, the woman told police that Wendy would be coming to pick up money from her that morning, the documents said.

Police said they photographed the $1,260 the woman was going to give to Zhang, who arrived at the hotel in a van driven by a man. The pair went into the woman's motel room, and when they returned to the van were approached by police, according to the documents. Police said they found the $1,260 they had photographed earlier, additional cash and cellphones whose phone numbers were linked to ads offering prostitutes in Pennsylvania.

Zhang was arrested and released after posting a $40,000 bond. On Feb. 12, Baltimore County prosecutors moved to revoke her bail in the Towson case and issued a warrant for her arrest. But a Circuit Court judge reinstated the bail, and Zhang remains free pending a trial scheduled for April, Thompson said.

The new charges against Zhang are the latest on a criminal record that dates back more than 10 years. Previous arrests on charges of prostitution and human trafficking generally resulted in suspended sentences or decisions not to prosecute.

More recently, though, police warned Zhang that if she continued operating a prostitution business, she could face federal prosecution. In March 2013, local and federal agents raided Jade Heart Health and arrested her.

According to documents filed in the property forfeiture case, bank accounts in the name of Zhang and one of her businesses received hundreds of thousands of dollars in deposits over the course of about a year, but police could find no other source of income other than "the prostitution business." Zhang's bank account also received cash deposits and wire transfers from China, the documents said. Money from those accounts was among the funds used to buy the five buildings in North Baltimore that are the target of the civil forfeiture case.

Zhang, who received an MBA from the University of Baltimore in 2001, also was listed in Securities and Exchange Commission documents as having an interest in a company that conducted millions of dollars of business in China, The Baltimore Sun reported in September.

Zhang was listed as a corporate officer of Landmark Energy Enterprise, whose SEC filings listed the same Joppa Road address as the massage parlor. The company said in the filings that it had agreed in 2010 to pay $2.78 million for the patents and assets of a company in China.

jmarbella@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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