By Stephen Montemayor Star Tribune
Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune FILE -- Minneapolis police Sgt. Grant Snyder photographed parking lot activity from a hotel room during a stakeout on an alleged sex-trafficking case in 2013.
The men came from across the state — and one from as far as Kentucky — responding, police say, to online classified ads selling sex with teenage girls at hotels in the Twin Cities area.
They negotiated prices and details of the night in graphic texts and e-mails before later finding police officers on the other side of the hotel room doors, charges say.
The undercover stings, known as Operation Guardian Angel, have produced charges against 21 men in the past two weeks, and authorities say at least 50 other cases are pending across the metro. The Dakota County attorney’s office announced charges Tuesday against six men in connection with the effort.
Washington County charged 13 men last week and the Ramsey County attorney’s office has also charged two men.
The men, ages 20 to 49, are accused of responding to Craigslist and Backpage.com ads posted by undercover investigators posing as 15- to 17-year-old girls.
“The real target of this is the demand side,” said Minneapolis Police Sgt. Grant Snyder, who has coordinated the operation. “And we’ve crafted it to target specifically those men that are looking to purchase commercial sex from a juvenile.”
Snyder, the lead juvenile trafficking investigator for Minneapolis police, said he has worked several operations around the state in the last year and a half. The men charged in Operation Guardian Angel face a variety of felony charges related to soliciting minors for sex and prostitution.
“We’re fortunate this time that the victims were police officers posing as 15- to 17-year-old girls,” Hastings Police Chief Bryan Schafer said.
Emphasis on demand
The men charged in Dakota County were arrested Sept. 10 when they arrived at a Country Inn Hotel in Hastings, according to court documents.
Minneapolis and St. Paul police, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other federal authorities worked with law enforcement in each metro county involved in the stings.
The number of people charged with soliciting a minor for prostitution has been on the rise in recent years, said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.
In 2010, the statute criminalizing the solicitation of a child under 15 for sex acts was used to charge 58 suspects across Minnesota. In 2013, 102 suspects were charged under the statute. Choi said that 2014 numbers — not yet available — will be similar to 2013, but that 2015 will be a “banner year” for the statute.
“This strategy to go after the demand side of sex trafficking is an important one, because we wouldn’t have this [sex-trafficking] problem if there wasn’t demand,” Choi said.
The increased attention to the demand side includes “Safe Harbor” laws that ensure minors sold for sex are treated as victims while their traffickers face tougher penalties.
Faith-based organizations are also getting in on the effort. The Hastings Ministerial Association co-sponsored a recent anti-trafficking training session for Dakota County’s chiefs of police with Snyder as its keynote. Snyder suggested that organizations should also offer support for those tempted to seek commercial sex online.
But, he added: “if they continue to click that mouse, if they respond to those ads, we’re going to be there and we’re going to find them.”
Charged in trafficking stings
These 21 men were charged this month in connection with Operation Guardian Angel, an effort to fight juvenile sex trafficking in the Twin Cities metro.
Charged in Dakota County: Christopher Thomas Lauyans, 33, of Maplewood; Dallas Leonard Lloyd, 26, of Zimmerman; Phengie Lue Lee, 24, of Minneapolis; Kerry Joe Mausolf, 48, of Cottage Grove; Jason Michael Slattum, 36, of Story City, Iowa; Joshua Berry Wood, 39, of Rosemount.
Charged in Ramsey County: Sheng Zhong, 32, of Minneapolis; Justin Andrew Walker, 40, of Brooklyn Park.
Charged in Washington County: Kevin Michael Aylward, 49, of Burnsville; Benjamin Charles Beery, 38, of Mounds View; Brent Allen Fredrickson, 38, of Eagan; Christopher Scott Henderson, 29, of Champlin; Gordon Patrick Jones, 33, of Clayton, Wis.; Ryan Brook Meredith, 33, of Woodbury; Nathan John Mravinc, 35, of Hudson, Wis.; Brian Patrick O’Boyle, 34, of St. Paul Park; Luis Angel Ponce, 20, of Cottage Grove; Kyle Michael Segermark, 21, of Gem Lake; Paul Dean Skaggs, 40, of Martha, Ky.; Michael Leonard Tallman, 30, of Coon Rapids; Ian Laurence Walford, 35, of Lake Elmo.
Staff writer Chao Xiong contributed to this story.