Minnehaha County, SD

Tactics Used

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

Minnehaha County is a county of approximately 200,000 residents, located in Southeastern South Dakota. The county seat, and state’s largest city is Sioux Falls, SD. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have occurred in the county for decades. For example, between 1951 and 1956, there was a federal campaign against organized interstate prostitution – much of which would now be called sex trafficking – in the upper Midwest of the United States. A series of investigations and enforcement operations revealed a prostitution and sex trafficking network centered in a bar in Minneapolis, MN, and spanning numerous cities in several states, including Chicago, IL; Sioux Falls, SD; Eau Claire, La Crosse, and Superior, WI. In December 1951, the FBI announced a campaign against organized interstate prostitution in the Upper Midwest, and when George MacKinnon took over as US Attorney for Minnesota in 1953, he targeted a prostitution enterprise that stretched from Chicago to Sioux Falls and beyond, with a nexus at a Northeast Minneapolis saloon called John’s Bar and Funhouse. By the end of the campaign in mid-1956, the bar had lost its license, and 110 men and women had been convicted of violating the Mann Act. In December 2013, an operation was uncovered that took in homeless teen girls and gave them clean clothes, drugs, alcohol and shelter. In exchange, the girls were sex trafficked out of a one-bedroom apartment just blocks from the federal courthouse in downtown Sioux Falls, by an adult sex trafficker. The brothel was described by police as a “house of horrors,” taking in vulnerable teen girls and young women and luring them into being sex trafficked. In 1985, the state increased penalties for prostituted people and sex buyers. The increase in penalties was a result of an increase in violence, targeted homicides against prostituted people and sex buyers, and an increase in sex trafficking activity in Sioux Falls and the state. Among the more serious crimes associated with the city’s commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. For example, in February 2022, a Sioux Falls woman was sentenced to 210 months in federal prison, followed by 10 years of supervised release, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $100. after being found guilty of sex trafficking a minor female. According to reports, “the sex trafficker knowingly and intentionally recruited the juvenile female to engage in commercial sexual acts with men in the Sioux Falls area. [The woman] communicated with customers using her cellular telephone, sending text messages and calling them to arrange the sexual acts. [The sex trafficker] received money for the commercial sexual acts in the form of cash and Western Union wire transfers.” The case was investigated by the Sioux Falls Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation.

Activity focused on prostitution and combating demand has increased as the state’s population has grown with the Bakken oilfield boom. The Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office began regularly conducting web-based reverse sting operations in 2012, if not earlier. These operations are frequently done in collaboration with the Sioux Falls Police Department. For example, in one operation in 2012, two decoys plus officers in support of the decoy conducted a web-based reversal. A local hotel collaborated with police, providing a location for the decoy, the team to meet and for arrests to take place. The department posted online ads for escort services and began getting responses within 20 minutes, receiving more than 100 text messages in responses to the ads. Ten men arrived at the hotel, and eight were arrested and charged with “hiring for sexual activity,” a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. The names, home towns, and ages of arrested sex buyers were released to the media. In another web-based reversal later in 2012, five men responded to decoy ads and seven male sex buyers were arrested. The arrestees ranged in age from 23 to 64.

The Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office frequently conducts web-based reverse sting operations, targeting individuals seeking to purchase commercial sex. Operations have focused on targeting individuals seeking to engage in commercial sex with both minors and adults. The MCSO often conducts these operations in collaboration with other local, state, and federal agencies. For example, in 2015, the South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force conducted a web-based reverse sting operation targeting individuals seeking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money that resulted in the arrest of six male sex buyers. In addition to the MCSO, other participating agencies included, the Sioux Falls Police Department, Watertown Police Department, the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI.

In 2021, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), the South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducted a joint web-based sex trafficking operation during the 2021 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The operation began on August 6, 2021, and continued through August 12, 2021, and resulted in the arrest of nine male sex buyers; all of which sought to engage in sexual activity with minors. Eight of the arrested offenders were charged with Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet and one of the arrested offenders was charged Attempted Commercial Sex Trafficking of a Minor. The mandatory minimum penalty upon conviction for Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet is 10 years up to life in federal prison; any term of years, not less than five, up to lifetime supervised release; $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund; and a $5,000 assessment if not indigent. Restitution may also be ordered. The mandatory minimum penalty upon conviction for Attempted Commercial Sex Trafficking of a Minor is 15 years up to life in federal prison; a $250,000 fine; any term of years, not less than five, up to lifetime supervised release; $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund; and a $5,000 assessment if not indigent. Restitution may also be ordered. In addition to the DCI, ICAC, HSI, other participating agencies included, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Ellsworth AFB Office of Special Investigations, Rapid City Police Department, and the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. The identities of arrested offenders were released in the press release by the South Dakota’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.

From March 6, 2022, through March 10, 2022, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), Sioux Falls Police Department, Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office, South Dakota Highway Patrol, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted a joint web-based reverse sting operation that resulted in the arrest of five male sex buyers. All five male sex buyers were arrested and charged with “Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet.” Their identities were included in reports by local media outlets.

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Child Endangerment:

  • “Women Charged with Prostitution Had Son with Her,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, March 16 2016.

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State South Dakota
Type County
Population 197214
Location
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