Ex-massage parlor owner gets 5 years in prison for role in Kansas sex trafficking case

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WICHITA, Kansas — A man accused of recruiting Chinese women to work at his Wichita massage parlors and coercing them into prostitution was sentenced to five years in prison Friday despite his plea for leniency.

Gary Kidgell, 45, of Waltham, Massachusetts, choked back tears when requesting a shorter sentence, saying he made a "very bad decision" to move to Kansas with his wife after his successful California construction-consulting firm collapsed in 2008. But the judge sided with prosecutors by handing down a sentence closer to the harsher end of his plea deal's prison range.

Kidgell pleaded guilty in May to charges of obstruction of justice and harboring an illegal immigrant. His 50-year-old wife, Wichita resident Yan Zhang, was sentenced earlier this month to five years of probation after admitting to transporting a woman from China to work as a prostitute.

"When the economy collapsed, I made a very bad decision to join my wife in Wichita and open massage parlors — which led to what happened today," Kidgell told the judge. His attorney noted that Kidgell was facing homelessness at the time and had to apply for food stamps.

Authorities began investigating the couple's nine massage parlors in 2010, after detectives found Internet postings about sexual services. Undercover officers paid for massages, then were offered — and declined — sex acts for an added price, according to court documents.

During a search, officers found a notebook containing translations for sexually explicit phrases. They also found copy for ads in Chinese-language newspapers in New York, Chicago and San Francisco offering "massage parlor hiring" in Kansas.

His plea agreement called for between roughly 4 years and 5 years in prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Hart pushed for the longer sentence, noting Kidgell's history of domestic violence convictions and other crimes dating back to 1991. He said Kidgell had a longstanding use of "certain tactics of subjugating women to his will."

Defense attorney David Freund asked for a more lenient sentence, arguing that Kidgell had been living a productive life before moving to Kansas. He said his client was heavily using cocaine while living in Wichita and that the crimes never would have occurred had it not been for Kidgell's wife.

"It is pretty clear they had a tumultuous relationship," Freund said. "Sometimes she was the aggressor, sometimes he was."

During a hearing in April, a former worker at one of the parlors said she was rebuilding her life. The woman was sentenced to time served after spending more than six months in jail before pleading guilty to reduced charges of helping induce an immigrant to reside unlawfully in the U.S.

She said Kidgell and his wife encouraged her to perform sex acts at the parlors.

"Life with him was miserable and nasty," she said at her sentencing. "I am glad the government took him away from my life."

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