MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A major international human trafficking operation with ties to Minnesota has been disrupted.

Ramsey and Washington counties’ attorneys announced the arrest of four people connected to the California-based enterprise that placed thousands of ads for sexual services in 29 states over the past two years.

Investigators say those in charge also purchased or rented properties in Oakdale, St. Paul, Blaine, Maplewood and St. Louis Park to sell sex.

This was a multi-agency investigation that uncovered vulnerable women, who were virtually trapped in a foreign country and sold for sex.

The four people charged in Minnesota and California face serious charges ranging from sex trafficking to racketeering.

Investigators tracked thousands of ads placed on backpage.com for sex. Their probe led to numerous victims, six of whom in Minnesota

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“The victims in this game were brutalized, frequently assaulted, raped and robbed by customers, forced to work 12 to 14 hours per day and forced to bring in a quota of at least $800 per day for their traffickers,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.

Victims were treated like property and forced to pay their traffickers house fees and transportation costs. They also had to pay for their own food.

“They’ve put big investments in here. They bought real estate only for the use of sex trafficking,” said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput.

The sex ring was discovered after an informant led a Minneapolis Police sex crimes detective to an apartment being used for sex.

From there, detectives followed the adds to find other properties used for human sex trafficking.

“There’s a townhouse in Cottage Grove that was bought and paid for with cash, and when the police entered they saw two beds. That’s it. But they also saw a line of guys waiting on a coach waiting for their turns,” Orput said.

Dongzhou Jiang (credit: Washington Co. Attorney’s Office)

The only Minnesotan charged in this case is 28-year-old Dongzhou Jiang of Blaine. Court documents say he was a regional boss who took the women to different places throughout the Twin Cities to have sex for money.

Backpage.com did shut down its escort section, but officials say now traffickers are moving their ads to other sections of the site.

The investigation into this international human trafficking business is ongoing. Officials say the only way to stop this activity is if men stop responding to these ads.

Reg Chapman