Crow Wing County is included in the Brainerd Micropolitan Statistical Area of Minnesota, and has a population of about 64,000. Its county seat is Brainerd, and the county also includes the communities of Baxter and Breezy Point. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in these cities and surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of the Crow Wing County. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking.
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 2015, the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office collaborated with officers from the Baxter and Brainerd Police Departments, and conducted a reverse sting operation targeting sex buyers in the community of Baxter. Law enforcement placed a decoy advertisement suggesting prostitution to a website known for commercial sex activity. Undercover officers then arranged to meet the individuals who responded to the listing at a Baxter hotel. Nine johns were arrested as a result. In early June 2015, the offenders’ ages and hometowns ran in the Brainerd Dispatch, after formal charges had been leveled against them. Each was charged with gross misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution. Between May and October 2015, area law enforcement agencies conducted multiple reverse sting operations, resulting in arrests and gross misdemeanor charges against 20 men for soliciting prostitution. The identities of the arrested sex buyers were released to news outlets. The operations involved police detectives placing decoy advertisements on a website known for its use in soliciting paid sex.
One of the men later pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor for soliciting prostitution in a public place, and was placed on two years of supervised probation and was ordered to complete an offenders prostitution program. The program is intended to hold buyers of illegal sex accountable while raising awareness among them on the impacts of sex trafficking. He did not complete the program, he would be required to serve 30 days in jail. Terms of his probation included random searches of his person, residence, vehicle, electronic devices and social network sites and prohibition of the use of websites promoting escort services or prostitution. He was also fined $1,760, although the judge granted him the ability to do community service in lieu of paying the base fine.
In November 2015, a web-based reverse sting operation was conducted in Brainerd and resulted in the arrests of four men. The Brainerd Police Department reported the arrests came as part of an undercover operation at a Brainerd hotel with the Brainerd Lakes Area Sex Trafficking Team. The identities of the four men booked in the Crow Wing County Jail were released, and they were ordered to appear in court on gross misdemeanor soliciting prostitution in a public place. The men responded to online advertisements for escort services and then engaged in conversations and interaction with undercover police officers, where they solicited sex in exchange for money. The four men arrested in the Brainerd reverse sting joined 16 others charged in 2015 in Crow Wing County as part of a focus by area law enforcement on sex trafficking in the region. Officers working together on the Brainerd sting were from the Baxter and Brainerd police departments and the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office. By January 2017, nearly all of those cases had worked their way through the court system. Included in the sentences received were combinations of supervised probation, fines, and mandatory completion of a “john school” (the schools are designed to hold offenders accountable and provide them information that will reduce recidivism and collectively help to reduce demand for prostitution and sex trafficking victims). All of the men from the Brainerd operation were sentenced to two-year terms of probation, ordered to attend a “john school” program, and were fined from $1,760 to $2,075.
In November, 2017, a conference of the Minnesota Sex Crimes Investigators Association featured a session led by a Minneapolis police member of the department’s human trafficking team. When discussing Operation Guardian Angel—a team of investigators who use technology to fight demand for sex trafficking—Snyder posted a live advertisement as an instructional tool. Answering was 58-year-old man from Owosso, MI, who allegedly told an officer posing as a young woman advertising sex he was headed to the Brainerd area and wanted to meet up. According to a criminal complaint he continued to pursue sex for money even after the undercover officer told him the girl was almost 16 years old. Snyder consulted the Nisswa Police Chief about following through with the operation. With the core team of Operation Guardian Angel present for the conference and a willing buyer, it was an opportunity to make an arrest, just as they’ve done in seven states and with more than 30 jurisdictions in the state of Minnesota (over 1,000 men had been arrested by the team since it began in February 2014 through October, 2017). After responding to the ad the man arrived at the prearranged location to meet who he thought was a 15-year-old girl. Instead, he met Nisswa police and was arrested then booked in the Crow Wing County Jail and appeared in Crow Wing County District Court, facing charges for three felonies: hiring for prostitution an individual believed to be between the ages of 13-16, soliciting a child to engage in sexual conduct and fifth-degree sale of marijuana. The first charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, a $40,000 fine or both.
- Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office
- Brainerd Lakes Area Sex Trafficking Team
- Brainerd Police Department
- Baxter Police Department
- Breaking Free
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Shaming, John School:
- http://www.grandforksherald.com/news/crime-and-courts/3887593-four-arrested-another-brainerd-lakes-prostitution-sting (2015)
- https://minnesotanewsnetwork.com/2-men-arrested-in-brainerd-sex-trafficking-sting-2-more-face-charges/ (2015)
- http://www.parkrapidsenterprise.com/brainerd-attorney-formally-charged-prostitution-sting-after-delay (2015)
- http://www.postbulletin.com/brainerd-man-faces-prostitution-related-charges (2015)
- https://fallsradio.com/second-prostitution-sting-in-baxter-nets-two-more-johns-tuesday/ (2015)
- “Charges Filed in Breezy Prostitution Sting,” Pineandlakes Echo Journal, November 24 2015.
- http://www.brainerddispatch.com/law-enforcement-sting-solicitation-cases-now-complete (2017)
- https://www.wctrib.com/sex-sting-training-nets-actual-arrest-nisswa-man-faces-felonies-soliciting-juvenile (2017)
John School, Community Service, SOAP:
- http://www.brainerddispatch.com/news/crime-and-courts/3822808-3rd-prostitution-sting-4-more-arrests (2015)
- https://www.brainerddispatch.com/news/4025509-man-forgoes-trial-pleads-guilty-prostitution-solicitation (2019)
- “‘Johns’ Charged in Baxter Prostitution Sting,” Brainerd Dispatch, June 24 2015.
- “2 Arrested in Second Baxter Prostitution Sting,” Brainerd Dispatch, June 26 2015.
- Sting Nets 2 Prostitution Arrests in Breezy Point,” Pineandlakes Echo Journal, October 19 2015.
- “Sting Nets 2 Prostitution Arrests in Breezy Point,” Brainerd Daily Dispatch, October 19 2015.