Woman accused of running Baltimore County brothel acquitted

Woman again accused of running a Baltimore County brothel acquitted this week.

A woman accused of running a brothel out of a Baltimore County massage parlor was acquitted of all charges this week.

Di Zhang, 45, was found not guilty by a judge of 15 offenses, including human trafficking and prostitution, for her alleged involvement at an unlicensed massage parlor on Belair Road in Nottingham, where authorities say money was exchanged for sex.

"There was very little evidence in the case," said Zhang's attorney, Brian Thompson.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said his office respects the judge's decision.

"We felt like we had sufficient evidence. The judge gave us a fair trial," he said.

During the trial, Thompson said, the state had one witness who worked at the business and claimed Zhang was running it, and told police Zhang would bring women from New York to work there. He said the witness testified that Zhang would come to the business several times a week to collect money.

But when police kept watch at the business for several weeks, they only observed Zhang there once, Thompson said. He said Zhang was called there by the witness to drop off some medication for the witness, not because she was involved with the business.

Thompson said the state also presented a witness who was a past client of the massage parlor, but the witness could not place Zhang at the business either.

Thompson said police were targeting Zhang after a previous case.

"The best they can come up with is that some john called her number," he said. "They had a single agenda, and that was 'Get Di Zhang.' I believe that the police just targeted her. I suspect they were not happy with how the last cases ended up."

Police wrote in charging documents that Zhang "continues to run illegal massage parlors without fear of the police or court systems."

Zhang faced similar charges in 2013, after a raid on her massage parlor, Jade Heart Health, at 1404 E. Joppa Road in Towson. Zhang entered an Alford plea to one count of prostitution and was sentenced to two years of probation. An Alford plea allows a defendant to maintain their innocence while acknowledging the state has enough evidence for a conviction.

Zhang also forfeited the building housing Jade Heart Health and agreed to pay $325,000 as part of a settlement of a federal civil forfeiture case over property connected to alleged prostitution and human-trafficking activities.

If she had been convicted of human trafficking in either case, Zhang, a green-card holder, would have been deported to China, Thompson said.

Thompson said Zhang has since moved out of state but still owns property in Maryland. He said she came to the United States without knowing any English but earned a master's degree and acquired rental properties.

"She's an educated and smart woman," he said.

He said he felt the charges were an overreach.

"Human trafficking is the new charge du jour," Thompson said.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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