Man jailed for brothel blackmail
A man who threatened to burn down the house of a Chinese massage parlour manager unless she paid him money has been sentenced to three and a half years prison for blackmail.
Lei Max Zheng was sentenced at the High Court in Auckland today for five counts of blackmail. Another man, Chen Chen, was sentenced for two counts and received 200 hours community service, six months supervision and was ordered to pay $700 in reparation.
Zheng and Chen, both dressed in cream coloured wool jerseys, heard their sentence delivered through a Chinese interpreter.
The two were found guilty at a jury trial.
Zheng, who has uncertain immigration status, and several other men, including Chen, visited five massage parlours demanding money.
Among the parlours targeted were Thai Foot Massage, Chinese Top Massage, Eternity Massage and Beauty 28.
Two women paid a total $500 for the men to go away.
In sentencing, Justice Helen Winkelmann said while the money demanded by Zheng was not much - a $100 "protection fee" per working girl per week - the amount would eventually put strain on the businesses.
The serious nature of the threats, was an aggravating factor, she said.
On the evening of October 29, 2010 Zheng visited three central Auckland massage parlours, telling the manager of Chinese Top Massage: "If you don't pay the money we are going to bring the petrol over and burn your house down," the court heard previously.
"You said if that didn't work, you would cause her a traffic accident," Justice Winkelmann said today.
On other occasions he threatened that workers would be stopped from going to work.
An impact statement from one manager said she could not sleep for days out of anxiety and fear that the blackmailers would return.
Another said she kept her workers in for three nights for fear that they would be harmed.
The pair had denied blackmailing the managers and said they were running a legitimate business and their actions had been misinterpreted.
Chen's European girlfriend of four years was relieved to hear Chen would not be facing prison.
Outside court, she said she was relieved that she would not be separated from Chen. The pair had met through mutual friends in New Zealand. Chen does not have any other family here.
Justice Winkelmann took into account Chen's young age of 23 at the time of offending and that his role was passive.
He was included to bolster numbers and act as an English interpreter where required, she said.
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