ST. PAUL, Minn. — Nearly four dozen people are facing state felony charges after being arrested for attempting to solicit children for sex following a four-day sting operation conducted during the Final Four weekend of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament.
These sex trafficking arrests resulted from an investigation conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), with assistance from the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments, and 29 additional Minnesota-based law enforcement agencies.
Investigators with the BCA-led Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force conducted an operation April 4-8 in several Twin Cities communities. During this operation, suspects chatted on several social media platforms with undercover agents and investigators who posed as minors or as sex buyers. Authorities arrested the suspects as they arrived at a pre-arranged meeting place for an encounter.
All suspects were booked into Hennepin, Anoka or Ramsey (Minnesota) county jails; their cases will be submitted for charging. Most of those arrested are from the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Following is a summary of the results of this operation:
- 47 people were booked on probable cause felony solicitation of a minor or solicitation of prostitution under 16 years of age;
- 11 people were booked on probable cause sex trafficking, promotion of prostitution; and
- 28 victims were rescued from trafficking situations, including one minor.
"This operation is an example of the aggressive steps necessary to stop traffickers and johns who buy and sell people for sex in our communities," said BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. "We can't let this crime continue, and we must work together to stop it."
The Task Force is led by BCA and includes investigators from police departments for St. Paul, Minneapolis and Buffalo; Anoka and Hennepin county sheriff's offices; HSI; and Ramsey County (Minnesota) Attorney's Office.
Many affiliate agencies loaned resources to this particular effort, including the following Minnesota police departments: Bemidji, Blaine, Brooklyn Park, Cambridge, Coon Rapids, Duluth, Howard Lake, Maplewood, Owatonna, Rochester, Thief River Falls and Upper Sioux; and Minnesota sheriff's offices for Crow Wing, Kanabec and Pope counties.
The following additional agencies provided expertise and resources: Minnesota police departments in Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina, Oakdale, Plymouth, St. Cloud and Woodbury; Washington County Sheriff's Office; Hennepin and Washington county attorney's offices; and the BCA-led Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
The following victim advocate organizations also provided services during victim recoveries, including Alexandria House, Breaking Free and The Link.
This investigation was conducted under HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 19,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child exploitation material, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2018, more than 3,000 (3,191) child predators were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 850 (859) victims identified or rescued.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
For additional information about wanted suspected child predators, download HSI's Operation Predator smartphone app or visit the online suspect alerts page. HSI is a founding member of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.