Great Falls, MT

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Great Falls is a city of approximately 60,000 residents in West-Central Montana. It’s the largest city and county seat of Cascade County, MT. The local commercial sex market and crimes associated with it—including cases of rape committed against prostituted women—have been well-documented. In 1888, when the city was just four years old, an ordinance was passed against prostitution. Between the settlement of Great Falls and World War I, it’s estimated that sex buyers would be able to find between 100-125 prostituted women at any one time. Even over a century ago, women in prostitution were victims of brutal attacks and murders. The city has also reported significant issues with massage parlors serving as fronts for prostitution.

Among the more serious issues associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. In 2016, a 40-year-old man was arrested for prostituting a 17-year-old girl in Great Falls. A few months later, a 20-year-old woman pleaded guilty to one count of promotion of prostitution for her connection to the same human trafficking ring. In 2018, a man and a woman were arrested and charged with trafficking of persons and sexual abuse of children. Court documents report that a child told investigators that the man had given money to the woman and then sexually abused her. This came after police received a tip that the man was involved in distributing drugs and selling his step-children. In 2017, he was charged with endangering the welfare of children, and tampering with a witness or informant and his wife was charged with endangering the welfare of children.

The Great Falls community is involved in anti-trafficking efforts. In 2022, the Red Sand Project hosted an event to raise awareness of sexual violence and human trafficking. Organized by North Central Montana Human Trafficking and the Missing Montana Indigenous Persons Task Force organizer Lea Wetzel, who is a survivor of human trafficking herself, red sand was poured into cracks in sidewalk along a main road, symbolizing cases that have fallen through the cracks. The previous spring, the “NoMore Violence Week” was hosted in the city, addressing topics including abuse trauma and sex trafficking.

Many tactics used to combat such problems are those focused on consumer-level demand. For example, in July 2014, officers with the Great Falls Police Department and Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force conducted a web-based sting targeting individuals seeking to solicit sex from minors. At least three men responded to a decoy advertisement posted by law enforcement and arranged to meet undercover female officers posing as underage girls. According to media reports, each male sex buyer was arrested after agreeing to exchange $150-200 to sexually exploit the officers, who they believed were 12- to 15-year-old girls. Following their arrests, each of the men’s names, ages, and hometowns were released to the public. According to media reports, “under [Montana] state law, paying for a sex act or agreeing to pay for a sex act with a child when an offender is over 18 years of age carries a mandatory 25-year prison sentence, with an additional 75 years to be served in prison or on probation.”

In December 2015, a similar web-based reverse sting targeting individuals looking to purchase sex from minors was conducted by the ICAC Task Force and resulted in two arrests. The identities of both sex buyers were disclosed. In October 2018, one of the men arrested (originally charged with sexual abuse of children and two counts of criminal possession of dangerous drugs) changed his plea and was sentenced to 25 years to the Montana State Prison for attempted prostitution in 2019.

In July 2019, a multi-agency human trafficking operation in Cascade County led to the arrests of five male suspects on misdemeanor prostitution charges. Investigators in the web-based operation advertised commercial sex on social media platforms and arranged to meet with those responding to the undercover decoys. One arrest led to a search warrant of a local massage parlor. The operation involved multiple agencies, including the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), the Great Falls Police Department, the Cascade County Attorney’s Office, the Montana Division of Criminal Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the ICAC Task Force. The Montana Chief Deputy Attorney General observed the operation and complimented the work of Montana’s 66th Legislature for providing funding to the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, “to assist and coordinate on human trafficking cases in local communities.”

According to a release from the CCSO, a total of 10 prostitution-related arrests were made across the Cascade County in September 2019. All 10 men were charged with prostitution of the first offense. Convicted sex buyers in Montana potentially face fines of $1,000 or one year in jail for the first offense. Any repeat offenses could lead to a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to five years in jail. The arrests were a follow-up to the sting operation that took place during the Montana State Fair over the summer. Other agencies involved in the arrests include the Great Falls Police Department, the Internet Crimes against Children Task Force, and the Cascade County Attorney’s Office.

Arrests of sex buyers are sometimes made during alternative investigations rather than as the result of reverse sting operations. For example, in September 2020, a man was arrested and charged with aggravated promotion of prostitution of a minor. The U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) had consulted with Great Falls police about an ongoing investigation regarding the suspect, who was an active-duty airman assigned to Malmstrom Air Force Base. Court documents stated that the suspect attempted to have sexual contact with a youth in Great Falls and was arrested. OSI took jurisdiction of that investigation and seized the man’s phone, which contained messages that indicated he was engaged in soliciting prostitution from a 16-year old person. Police identified the child by photos and the name provided on their social media account.

Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex that has occurred in the city. For example, in 2019, the wrestling coach for a small college in Montana was placed on administrative leave after his name was discovered up in court records in a sex trafficking case. The University of Providence wrestling coach was not officially charged, but according to court records, “he told police he arranged to meet a woman at a Great Falls motel for oral sex after receiving a text message from an unknown phone number.” Cascade County Attorney Josh Racki confirmed that, “The UP’s head wrestling coach for nine years, was identified by Great Falls police as a suspected “john” after they reviewed security footage from the Motel 6.” Police arrested another man through the security footage provided by the motel. He was charged with three felonies: trafficking of person; aggravated promotion of prostitution; and property subject to forfeiture-human trafficking and two misdemeanors: criminal possession of dangerous drugs, and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia. The investigation and subsequent arrest by the GFPD occurred in response to a call police received from a Motel 6 employee about suspected sex trafficking activity occurring in the motel. He had been the Argos wrestling team since the fall of 2007. His identity and image were included in reports by local media outlets. In 2020, the University announced the interim coach as the new head coach.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:

Employment Loss, Cameras, Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Commercial Sex:

State Montana
Type City
Population 60403
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