Mason City, IA

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

Mason City is a city of approximately 27,000 residents, located in north-central Iowa’s Cerro Gordo County, about 80 miles northwest of Waterloo. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity has been well-documented in the city and surrounding communities. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. For example, in 2015 and 2018, a series of prostitution operations 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. In an effort to reduce prostitution locally, local law enforcement has conducted at least one reverse sting. 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 sex buyers 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 was 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 the press.

Not all arrests of sex buyers in Mason City are the result of sting operations using police decoys. In some cases, they result from allegations of crimes against real victims. For example, in December 2020, a man was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to assault with intent to commit sex abuse and prostitution. The man had paid a 16-year-old $50 for sex and the victim withdrew consent during the incident. He was sentenced to prison for up to five years, required to pay a $250 civil penalty, and sign up with the Iowa Sex Offender Registry. In February 2022, the man received a suspended sentence of jail time after pleading guilty to the charges of soliciting prostitution with a minor. He is required to serve probation for a period of three years under the supervision of the Department of Correctional Service. He is also prohibited from having any contact with any minor unless pre-approved by his probation officer. There was a no-contact order set in place, according to documents, between the offender and the victim for a period of five years.

The Mason City City Council has 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.

Key Partners

  • Mason City Police Department
  • Iowa Department of Public Safety
  • Mason City City Council
  • North Central Iowa Narcotics Task Force

Key Sources

Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Proposed Vehicle Seizure:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Iowa
Type City
Population 27338
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