Cerro Gordo County is located in northern Iowa, and has a population of about 43,000. Its county seat is Mason City (with about 28,000 residents) and its other communities include Clear Lake (a city of about 7,800). Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the city and surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of Cerro Gordo County, going back for more than a century. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. For example, in June 2014 an investigation by the North Central Iowa Narcotics Task Force revealed a prostitution ring working in the area. Two Mason City women were charged with prostitution and with aiding and abetting prostitution, both aggravated misdemeanors punishable by up to 2 years in prison and fine up to $6,250. According to the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s Office, this activity has been going on in the area for some time with the case still under investigation. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, Iowa State Patrol and the Mason City Police Department assisted the North Central Iowa Narcotics Task Force. In 2015 and 2018, a series of prostitution operations in Mason City were prompted by community complaints, and resulted in numerous arrests in street-level stings and in investigations of storefront brothels.
Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. For example, in May, 2019, a prostitution sting in Clear Lake on Wednesday resulted in the arrest of seven male sex buyers and two women accused of prostitution. The identities of all arrested persons were included in press releases. The Clear Lake Police Department was assisted by the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s Office, the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, the Mason City Police Department, and the North Central Iowa Drug Task Force.
In June 2015, the Mason City Police Department and Iowa Department of Public Safety initiated a “dual” sting targeting both sex buyers and individuals offering acts of prostitution. Seven local residents were arrested as a result, five of whom were identified as attempted sex buyers. One of the johns arrested was reported to be a Tier 3 registered sex offender. Although logistical details about the investigation were not disclosed, media outlets reported that each of the arrestees were apprehended after allegedly “either offering to purchase a sex act or offering to sell their services in a sex act with an undercover officer.” All seven arrestees’ identities, including their mugshots, were publicized in press. The Mason City City Council has also considered the establishment of an auto seizure ordinance that would enable law enforcement to seize the vehicles of individuals charged with a variety of offenses, including solicitation. If implemented, the ordinance would require all violators to pay a fine of $250 to retrieve their vehicle. Through June 2015, the ordinance remained pending.
In September, 2020, a North Iowa man living in the Beje Clark Residential Center correctional home in Mason City was arrested after sending sexually explicit Facebook messages to an unwilling recipient. The man was charged with prostitution, indecent exposure, failure to comply with sex offender registration, harassment, and possession of drugs in a correctional facility. In the messages he had provided a list of requested sex acts and the prices he would be willing to pay the woman for them.
- Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s Office
- Clear Lake Police Department
- Division of Criminal Investigation
- Hancock County Sheriff’s Office
- Mason City Police Department
- North Central Iowa Drug Task Force
Reverse Sting, Shaming:
- https://www.facebook.com/mcglobegazette/posts/seven-arrested-in-mason-city-prostitution-sting (2015)
- “Area Residents among 7 Arrested in Mason City Prostitution Sting,” Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, June 19 2015.
- “Extension Official, Six Others, Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Mason City Globe Gazette, June 19 2015.
- “Prostitution Bust Leads to Multiple Arrests,” CBS/KIMT-TV 3, June 19 2015.
- “Two Titonka Men Arrested in Sting; Undercover Operation Leads to Seven Arrests,” Algona Upper Des Moines, June 25 2015.
- “Hall Given Deferred Judgment in Prostitution Case,” Mason City Globe Gazette, July 20 2015.
- https://www.kimt.com/content/news/9-arrested-in-Clear-Lake-prostitution-sting (2019)
- https://globegazette.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/nine-arrested-in-clear-lake-prostitution-sting/ (2019)
- http://www.algonaradio.com/2019/05/bancroft-man-arrested-in-prostitution-sting/ (2019)
- https://kttc.com/news/iowa-news/2019/05/30/nine-arrested-in-prostitution-sting/ (2019)
- https://www.radioiowa.com/2019/05/30/nine-people-arrested-by-clear-lake-police-in-prostitution-sting/ (2019)
- https://kilrradio.com/kirl-news/444339 (2019)
- https://globegazette.com/news/beje-clark-resident-arrested-on-prostitution-drug-charges (2020)
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area
- “Two Deny Guilt in ‘Slave’ Case,” Milwaukee Journal, February 28 1957.
- “Two Arrested in Investigation of Prostitution Ring,” Mason City Globe Gazette, June 27 2014.
- http://www.radioonthego.com/index.php/two Mason City women arrested for prostitution (2014)
- https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/Sacrificing Our Daughters_Changing perceptions of prostitution in Iowa, 1880-1915_Hope Mitchell (2014)
- http://www.mankatofreepress.com/news/local_news/six-arrested-in-juvenile-prostitution-sting (2017)
- http://www.fox9.com/news/6-arrested-for-soliciting-sex-from-underage-girls-in-southern-mn (2017)
- http://www.keyc.com/story/36501953/6-arrested-in-juvenile-prostitution-sting-in-madison-lake (2017)
- http://www.kimt.com/content/news/Prostitution-arrest-in-Mason-City- (2018)
- https://globegazette.com/news/police-woman-charged-with-prostitution-in-mason-city-fort-madison (2018)
- https://www.pencitycurrent.com/2018/04/20/woman-charged-with-prostitution-grabbed-in-mason-city/ (2018)
- County Zoning Ordinance: