Owatonna is a small city of approximately 26,000 residents, located south of the Twin Cities and west of Rochester in Minnesota’s Steele County, at the juncture of Interstate 35 and U.S. Highways 14 and 218. In late March 2015, regional task force officers with the South Central Drug Investigative Unit conducted a reverse sting in Owatonna that resulted in the arrests of 10 sex buyers. The operation mirrored a similar SCDIU operation conducted in nearby Albert Lea in February 2015, and was followed by a second SCDIU reversal in Albert Lea in early April 2015. Although logistical details about the stings were not disclosed to the public, law enforcement reported that they received the support and cooperation of several local hotels when conducting their investigations. All of the arrestees’ names and other identifying information were publicized in local media outlets.
In 2018, a man was sentenced to spend less than two months in jail after being caught in an undercover operation targeting patrons of prostitution for the second time in less than two years – and in the second instance, the man was attempting to purchase sex with children. The 46 year old man pleaded guilty in May of 2018 in Olmsted County District Court to one count of prostitution: agreeing to hire a 13- to 15-year-old for sex, a felony. Over the course of two days in November 2017, he had arranged to pay a 15-year-old girl $150 for a “car date,” talking to the girl about sex and asking whether she was on birth control.The 15-year-old girl was actually an undercover Rochester police officer. The man had arranged to meet the “girl” at a restaurant in Owatonna and was arrested by police shortly after arriving at the location. On the day of his arrest, the man sent a photo of himself to the officer, who recognized him from an earlier arrest in January, 2016, in a similar undercover operation. The judge ordered the offender to serve 45 days in jail with credit for six days already served. As part of the jail sentence, he was allowed work release and treatment release. As part of the sentence, he was given 10 years of probation and he must complete 100 hours of community service. The offender was also given a stay of imposition, where successfully completing the probationary sentence would reduce the felony conviction to a misdemeanor on his record. In addition, the court ordered him to complete an intervention program for men who use prostituted women (a john school), and fined him $1,085. In the 2016 case, the man pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of prostitution-agree to hire 18-year-old or older and was sentenced to a stayed 90-day jail term for a period of one year.
- South Central Drug Investigative Unit (regional task force)
- Owatonna Police Department
- Albert Lea Police Department
- Waseca County Sheriff’s Office
- Faribault County Sheriff’s Office
- Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office
- Steele County Sheriff’s Office
- Blooming Prairie Police Department
- Waseca Police Department
- Janesville Police Department
- Blue Earth Police Department
- Wells Police Department
- Winnebago Police Department
Reverse Stings with Shaming:
- “20 Arrested in Owatonna, Albert Lea Sex Trafficking Stings,” ABC/KSTP-TV 5, April 17 2015.
- “20 People Arrested in Human Trafficking and Sex Crime Bust,” CBS/KIMT-TV 3, April 17 2015.
- “20 People Arrested in Undercover Human Trafficking Operation,” ABC/KAAL-TV 6, April 17 2015.
- “3 North Iowans Arrested in Minnesota Sex Crimes Sting,” Mason City Globe Gazette, April 18 2015.
- “4 Mower Residents Arrested in Sex Crimes Stings,” Austin Daily Herald, April 18 2015.
- “20 Arrested in Undercover Prostitution Sting in Owatonna, Albert Lea,” Albert Lea Tribune, April 20 2015.
- “Waseca Man among Those Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Waseca County News, April 20 2015.
- https://www.postbulletin.com/news/crime/owatonna-man-sentenced-in-prostitution-case (2018)