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article imageCalgary police lay charges in escort extortion investigation

By Arthur Weinreb     Oct 23, 2012 in Crime
Calgary - A man is in custody and a Canada-wide warrant has been issued for the arrest of his estranged wife after police alleged the couple threatened escorts and made over 50 false calls to police.
Speaking at a news conference, Staff Sgt. Robert Rutledge of the Calgary Police Service announced the results of an 11-month investigation. Police claim 51 false calls were made to the Calgary police and escorts were threatened with police action by the pair.
Wen Zhan Li, 29, was arrested on Oct. 14 and is being held in custody in Calgary. He is facing two counts of extortion and four counts of public mischief. His wife, Rong Zhang, 37, has not been apprehended and if police have any idea as to her whereabouts, they are not releasing that information.
Police allege the couple attempted to get Asian escorts to work for them in Calgary and other parts of Canada. Rutledge is quoted in the Calgary Sun as saying, "There was an attempt to control the market in Calgary and across Canada—they're attempting to eliminate competition."
Women would be asked to work for Zhang and Li. If they said "no" they were threatened. Li or Zhang would tell them that if they did not work for them, they would be in trouble with the police. If a woman still refused, a false call would be made to 911.
The caller, believed to be either Li or Zhang, would tell the 911 operator that a woman was being held at gunpoint or knifepoint in either a private residence or a hotel room. When police arrived, they would find the woman was not being held against her will. The women, one of whom was the subject of seven 911 calls, were puzzled as to why the police would think they were in trouble.
Police allege during the past 11 months, a total of 51 false calls were made. The calls originated from outside of Calgary and three calls, presumably made by Zhang, occurred after Li had been arrested and detained.
Rutledge is quoted in the Calgary Herald as saying the calls created huge resource issues for the Calgary police. When the calls began, large numbers of police officers were dispatched, including tactical teams and canine units. Later on, operators were able to identify the caller and no action was taken.
Police believe some of the women, most of whom are in Canada on visitors visas, are the victims of human trafficking. But none of the women complained they were trafficked or forced into becoming prostitutes.
Zhang is described as five-foot-three inches tall, 60 kilograms (132 pounds) and has brown eyes and black hair. Li will make his next court appearance on Nov. 5.
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