Vernal, UT

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

Vernal is the government seat and largest city in Uintah County, Utah. It is about 175 miles east of Salt Lake City and 20 miles west of the Colorado border, and has population of roughly 10,500 residents. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the city and surrounding areas for decades. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents, and among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking of children.

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. To identify and apprehend local sex buyers driving the prostitution and sex trafficking markets, the Vernal Police Department has conducted web-based reverse stings. For example, in September 2018, a 38-year-old local man responded with a series of lewd messages posted by detectives. An email conversation moved to Facebook, where the man saw a decoy photo of a young woman wearing nothing but body paint above the waist. Detectives asked three times to exchange money for sex before the man said he wasn’t working and didn’t have any cash, but could pay at a later date if they had sex now. Detective arrested the sex buyer when he approached the hotel as arranged. This case was described as typical for the detective, who has posed as either a young girl or an adult woman seeking payment for sex dozens of times. Police officials in Vernal say such efforts to thwart sexual solicitation are a priority for a department focused on protecting the community from predators. Utah’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force, run through the attorney general’s office, trained the detective and provided money to Vernal police to conduct investigations involving suspects interested in preying on children. Court records show that most of the defendants in the several years prior to 2018 pleaded guilty to a class B misdemeanor but their fees have varied. Those who chose to represent themselves more often were given a $680 fee, while most who were represented by an attorney were given a lesser amount, often around $400.

Key Partners

  • Vernal Police Department
  • Uintah County District Attorney’s Office
State Utah
Type City
Population 10450
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