Pottawattamie County, 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

Pottawattamie County has about 93,000 residents and is located on Iowa’s western border, near Omaha, Nebraska. Its county seat is Council Bluffs.  Complaints from residents about prostitution date back to the 1870s. More recently, there have been multiple documented cases of sex trafficking (of both adults and minors) occurring within the county, as well as the targeted sexual assaults and homicides of prostituted women. Local child sex trafficking cases have also included child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, often called “child pornography” in legal codes).  For example, in March, 2020, a 52 year old man from Carter Lake (within Pottawattamie County) was sentenced in United States District Court after pleading guilty to Transportation with Intent to Engage in Sexual Activity, Distribution of Marijuana and Cocaine to a Person Under the Age of Twenty-One, and Distribution of Child Pornography. The investigation began when a Douglas County (Nebraska) Sheriff’s Department Deputy encountered a suspicious vehicle in the parking lot of a motel. The driver was subsequently arrested and the two females involved in this matter were left at the motel. The defendant picked up the two females, ages seventeen and eighteen, from the Omaha motel and drove them to his home in Pottawattamie County. He had previously transported one of the victims from Omaha across the state line to his home, where he set up prostitution “dates” and provided them with cocaine and marijuana. The offender took pictures of the seventeen year old on his cell phone and distributed the CSAM to a friend.

In efforts to reduce prostitution, and this sex trafficking and its related crimes, the county’s prosecutor’s and sheriffs offices have supported the use of demand reduction tactics, and local agencies participate in the Southwest Iowa Narcotics Task Force (SINTW), which has implemented sting operations. The Council Bluffs Police Department (CBPD) has conducted both street-level and web-based reverse stings. Street-level operations targeting sex buyers date back to at least 1987, when CBPD officers partnered with Omaha Police to conduct a sting at an interstate truck stop known for commercial sex activity.

Law enforcement, including the CBPD and SINTW, have conducted web-based reversals in Council Bluffs since at least early 2009, when six sex buyers were arrested after responding to a decoy online advertisement placed by the SINTW. Police and public officials reported that cameras and audio equipment were used to record the solicitations and gather evidence. The sex buyers’ names were publicized in local media outlets. It was also reported that at least one of the offenders had pled guilty and been sentenced to “one year of unsupervised probation and 30 hours of community service.” Since that time, the community has served as the staging ground for over a dozen additional web-based reverse stings. The operations have netted anywhere from 5 to 15 sex buyers, and many operations are collaborative, including participation of the Pottawattamie County and Mills County sheriff’s offices, Council Bluffs, Omaha (NE), and La Vista (NE) police departments, FBI, and a Child Exploitation Task Force.

All individuals arrested for prostitution-related offenses– including adult women selling sex — continue to have their identities publicized by local media outlets. In February 2019, at least five men from Council Bluffs, McClelland, Omaha and Bellevue were charged with solicitation of a prostitute during a web-based anti-sex trafficking operation by the Council Bluffs Police Department Vice Unit. One of the suspects from McClelland made contact with the officer through text messages and arranged a time to meet in Council Bluffs “for a date.”

Key Partners

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

  • “Sex Buyers Beware Bluffs Police Say Sting Gave Truckers Signal,” Omaha World-Herald, July 18 1987.

Web-Based Reverse Stings with Identity Disclosure:

Community Service:


Local Sex Trafficking, CSAM, Related Crimes:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

  • “Prostitution Apparently Increasing at Bluffs Truck Stops,” Omaha World-Herald, September 15 1985.
  • “‘Vanilla Gorilla’ Uses CB Radio for Bluffs Truck-Stop Busts,” Omaha World-Herald, April 28 1986.
  • “Omahan Accused of Pimping in Bluffs,” Omaha World-Herald, October 29 1987.
  • “Admitted Prostitute Testifies Bluffs Judge to Determine If Woman Running Brothel,” Omaha World-Herald, January 16 1988.
  • “Judge Says Woman Guilty of Pimping,” Omaha World-Herald, January 26 1988.
  • “Judge Fines Woman $7,500 for Pimping,” Omaha World-Herald, March 16 1988.
  • “Prostitution Suspect Arrested,” Omaha World-Herald, April 3 1995.
  • “Two Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, June 22 2005.
  • “Escort Service Prostitutes Flourishing in Metro Area; This Discreet Form of Illicit Sex Is Thriving out of the Public’s Sight, Police Say,” Omaha World-Herald, January 8 2006.
  • “Pair Arrested for Drugs, Prostitution,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, October 4 2006.
  • “Woman Arrested for Prostitution,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, July 31 2007.
  • “Three Arrested in Prostitution Bust,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, August 15 2007.
  • “Two Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, December 15 2007.
  • “Sting Nets Three for Prostitution,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, September 11 2009.
  • https://www.ketv.com/prostitution-arrests-omaha-council-bluffs (2012)
  • https://www.kjan.com/woman-arrested-prostitution/ (2021)

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Prostitution-Related Ordinances:

State Iowa
Type County
Population 93478
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