A judge has dismissed a felony charge against one of two people accused of promoting prostitution at a Bismarck massage business.
Yanhong Liu Coble, 48, and David Coble, 54, both from Bismarck, were charged with promoting prostitution in June. The charges follow an investigation into the company that began in February 2021.
Three men interviewed after police saw them leaving the Mapleton Avenue business said they paid for massage services by credit card and sex acts with cash. When building the case, police also used bank transaction records and information from the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office to verify ownership of the company.
Yanhong Liu Coble was a registered agent for Cherry Blossom Massage and his name appeared in a bank account associated with the company, according to court documents. But South Central District Judge Douglas Bahr said there was “no evidence that she was managing the day-to-day affairs” of the business.
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At a preliminary hearing on August 19, Bahr asked the attorneys for written submissions on the evidence in the case. In a decision filed Wednesday, Bahr said Yanhong Liu Coble had not been identified by a company employee as the boss and that no information had been provided that she had received money from workers.
Burleigh County Assistant State’s Attorney Dennis Ingold argued that the two Cobles signed agreements on behalf of the company and had access to the company’s bank account. Bahr agreed that Yanhong Liu Coble had “at least some general involvement in the business”, but “not the type of day-to-day involvement from which one would assume she was aware of payments, tips and sexual acts or sexual contact provided by workers in exchange for money.
David Coble signed documents such as checks to pay workers and signed agreements on behalf of the company, Bahr wrote. He was the only member of Cherry Blossom, which is a member-run limited liability company. He also controlled or had access to the payment processing account and, as such, knew about tips of $100 to $200 to employees for massages costing $77. He also hired or engaged unlicensed workers to perform massages, the judge wrote, adding that it could be inferred “that he would not do so if his intention was to provide massage services,” said Bahr.
David Coble will enter a plea at an arraignment on September 13. His defense attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Yanhong Liu Coble’s attorney, Paul Merkens, declined to comment.