The man who threatened to burn a brothel owner's house down if she did not pay "protection'' money has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Lei Man Zheng was sentenced at the High Court at Auckland today for blackmailing massage parlour and brothel owners into handing over money in late 2010.

Zheng was found guilty of five counts of blackmail. His friend Chen Chen was found to have played a lesser role and was found guilty of two counts and sentenced to 200 hours community work with six months supervision.

High Court chief judge, Justice Helen Winkelmann, also ordered Chen to pay $700 in reparations. She said Zheng was not in a position to pay reparations because he owed money in fines.


She said Zheng played the lead role, demanding $100 per working woman per week from brothel owners.

"That is not a large payment but your obvious intention was to establish an ongoing source of income that would in time add up to a very substantial amount indeed.''

Zheng told one of the women that if she did not pay the money, 30 men would come to the brothel and stop her operating her business. Another owner was threatened explicitly.

"You told her that if she did not pay you, you would bring petrol over and burn down her house and if that did not work, you would cause her to have a traffic accident,'' Justice Winkelmann said.

She said she had read victim impact statements from the five "frightened'' brothel owners targeted.

"One said she kept everyone on site for three nights because she worried what would happen.''

Justice Winkelmann said the offending was premeditated and involved a high degree of planning. She said the victims were vulnerable women who worked late at night and in the early hours of the morning.