Pennington County, SD

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Pennington County is the second-most populous county (113,000)in South Dakota, and its county seat and largest community is Rapid City.  The county is located near the eastern slope of the Black Hills mountain range, and accommodates most of the tourist flow to Mt. Rushmore.  Prostitution, child sex trafficking, and pimping are known to occur in the county, and to address these problems, interventions targeting demand for commercial sex have been pursued.  County law enforcement agencies often collaborate with municipal police departments to conduct reverse stings.  Both street-level and web-based operations have occurred.  Surveillance cameras have also been used locally to deter men from buying sex.

A web-based reverse sting in February, 2013 resulted in the arrest of seven johns.  All were released and ordered to appear in court.  A similar operation in October, 2012 resulted in four arrests. “Hiring for sexual activity” is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.  In November, 2013 four men were arrested by the Rapid City Police Department on misdemeanor charges of attempting to solicit prostituted women over the Internet, and the names and ages of the arrested sex buyers were released.

In September 2017, seven sex buyers were cited  in an undercover online sex trafficking operation by the Rapid City Police Department.  An undercover detective initially contacted two woman who were separately advertising massage and sexual services online, and after an investigation they were arrested and charged for the offenses of prostitution, practice of massage without a license, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and a sales tax license violation.  The reverse sting portion of the operation involved detectives fielding calls responding to online posting that advertised commercial sex, arranging meetings, and arresting those who appeared and offered to buy sex.  The advertisement drew sex buyers from Pennington County as well as other towns in South Dakota (Elm Springs, Vale) and C0lorado (Longmont).  Prosecution of the case was referred to the Pennington County State’s Attorney.The identities of the sex buyers were publicly released.

Sturgis is another important city within Pennington County.  Although small (less than 7,000 residents), prostitution activity is encouraged by its proximity to Interstate 90 and Mount Rushmore which draw people year round.  In addition, the population temporarily booms during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  Community complaints about prostitution during the rally, coupled with concerns from law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups about potential sex trafficking activity drove local, state, and federal agencies to conduct an operation targeting demand in August 2013.  Seven male sex buyers were arrested as part of an online reverse sting during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  FBI and Division of Criminal Investigation agents, along with the Rapid City Internet Crimes Against Children task force posted advertisements for 12- and 13-year-old girls on Craigslist and  The men allegedly responded to the listings and then negotiated sex acts with undercover agents; they were arrested when they arrived at a hotel to complete the transactions.  Following their arrests, the identities of all of the men apprehended was released to the public. Each was charged in U.S. District Court with attempting to entice a person under 18 into a commercial sex act. In January 2014, it was reported that at least one of the men had been sentenced to 10 years in prison and was required to register as a sex offender. “He was earlier convicted of attempted trafficking with respect to involuntary servitude and forced labor for seeking sex with [what he believed to be a] 12-year-old girl.”

In August 2018, six men were arrested as the result of a sex trafficking operation in the Rapid City area, which took place during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The South Dakota Attorney General’s Office worked in conjunction with law enforcement officials from Pennington County, Rapid City, Sturgis and the state Division of Criminal Investigation on the sting. The six men, ranging in age from 20 to 55, were charged with attempted enticement of a minor using the internet, which charge carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison upon conviction. In March 2021 two men were found guilty of sex crimes charges against minors stemming from the reverse sting operations conducted during the 2017 and 2019 Sturgis Motorcycle Rallies.  One was an Arizona resident who was found guilty of Attempted Commercial Sex Trafficking of a Minor and Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet committed during the 2017 Sturgis Rally. In multiple text messages with a person he believed was a pimp for a 15-year-old girl – but who was instead an undercover agent – he negotiated a time and place to meet to engage in sexual abuse of a minor. Upon arriving at the pre-determined location, he was met with law enforcement and taken into custody.

Key Partners

  • Pennington County Sheriff’s Office
  • Rapid City Police Department
  • South Dakota Attorney General’s Office
  • South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation
  • Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • FBI

Key Sources

State South Dakota
Type County
Population 113775
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