A New York City man is facing up to 14 years in prison following his April 11 conviction for running a house of prostitution above a pizza shop in Rhawnhurst.
An FBI task force alerted the Philadelphia Police Department’s Citywide Vice Unit about the illegal activity at 2422 Rhawn St. last August as federal agents investigated suspected human trafficking in the area. According to Assistant District Attorney Lucas Machado, an undercover vice cop found a prostitution ad on an online classified site, called the phone number and was directed to a two-story apartment above New Boston Style Pizza.
Defendant Cheng Jie Lu, 26, greeted the officer at the front door on Aug. 18, led him to the second floor and introduced him to three women dressed in lingerie. Lu motioned for the officer to choose one of the women. The officer selected a 26-year-old, who led the officer to the third floor and offered to have sex with him in exchange for $140 cash, Machado said.
The cop signaled for backup officers who raided the place and arrested all four occupants. The other women were ages 20 and 51. All three women were charged with prostitution and adjudicated through a diversionary program for first-time nonviolent offenders. Authorities don’t believe the pizza shop had anything to do with the prostitution operation.
Following an April 11 waiver trial, Common Pleas Court Judge Vincent Johnson convicted Lu of promoting prostitution and conspiracy, both felonies. Lu testified through a Chinese interpreter that he was traveling from New York to Chicago to pursue a career as a chef when he stayed for one night at his friend’s Rhawn Street apartment. He claimed that he was unaware of the prostitution operation when he answered a knock on the door from the undercover cop and let him inside.
Machado said that police found no evidence that the women were being held against their will or were victims of human trafficking. ••