Yellowstone County, MT
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Yellowstone County is a county of approximately 167,000 residents in the U.S. state of Montana. The county seat and largest city is Billings, MT, which is also the largest city in the state. Partially due to the state’s large number of truck stops, prostitution and sex trafficking have been persistent and visible problems for decades, including through illicit massage businesses. Among the more serious issues associated with the commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. In 2022, a man was sentenced to 15 years in prison (with three suspended) for aggravated promotion of prostitution. One of his victims was only 17 years old.
In an effort to identify and deter potential sex buyers, the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO) has collaborated with the Billings Police Department (BPD) and other agencies to conduct reverse stings. For example, in August 2013, 25 people were arrested for soliciting prostitution thanks to an operation conducted by the City County Special Investigations Unit (made up of BPD and YCSO deputies).
Since approximately 2015, the county experienced an upsurge in web and storefront solicitation, suggesting that the commercial sex market is moving online. To address this shift, web-based reverse stings have been conducted and sex buyer identities are routinely released to the media. For example, in 2018, a 29-year-old man was sentenced to four years in prison after having been found guilty of soliciting sex from a minor for the second time. According to reports, the man had responded to a decoy ad posted offering to sexually exploit a minor in exchange for money. Undercover officers communicated with the sex buyer and arranged to meet at a Billings hotel. Upon the sex buyer’s arrival and agreement to engage in the sexual exploitation of a minor, he was arrested by undercover officers. The offender later pleaded not guilty in Yellowstone County District Court to a single count of prostitution—a felony. He was sentenced to four years in prison under a plea deal that would run concurrently with a previous charge of child sexual abuse from 2014 (the offender was found to have violated probation for this conviction in February 2015 when he was arrested during a prostitution sting in Bismarck, ND). As a part of his 2018 sentencing, the offender was required to complete sex offender treatment, obtain a psychosexual evaluation, and follow the evaluation’s recommendations. In addition, officers successfully identified and rescued a child sex trafficking victim during this investigation. The identity and image of the sex buyer were released by local media outlets.
In 2019, a 38-year-old man was arrested in an online sting. After responding to a decoy ad promoting the prostitution of a 14-year-old girl and being approached by a Yellowstone County deputy, he admitted to agreeing to pay $85 to perform sex acts. His identity was released in local media outlets.
In 2021, the YCSO, Homeland Security Investigations, and the FBI assisted the BPD in conducting a web-based reverse sting operation that targeted suspects who sought to solicit minors for sex. As a result of the two-day investigation, nine male sex buyers were arrested—eight of the men were from Billings. In addition, one man was arrested in Wyoming and was charged with coercion or enticement of prostitution. The identities and images of arrested offenders were included in reports by local media outlets.
- Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office
- City County Special Investigations Unit
- Billings Police Department
- Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation
- Homeland Security Investigations
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- Billings ‘johns’ roundup hurts prostitutes’ business (1989)
- “School Principal Is Challenging Prostitution Law,” Spokane Chronicle, January 17 1990.
- https://www.kulr8.com/news/prostitution-busts (2013)
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “6th Charged in Prostitution Case,” Billings Gazette, April 3 2009.
- https://billingsgazette.com/man-charged-again-in-billings-prostitution-sting-trafficking-victim-rescued (2018)
- Man gets 4-year sentence in Billings-area prostitution sting (2018)
- Man charged again in prostitution sting, trafficking victim rescued (2018)
- https://www.ktvq.com/prosecutors-man-thought-he-was-meeting-14-year-old-girl-in-billings-instead-found-police (2020)
- https://www.ktvq.com/sting-nets-9-arrests-in-yellowstone-county-on-sexual-abuse-of-children-charge (2021)
- https://billingsgazette.com/four-more-alleged-pedophiles-captured-in-billings-area-joint-agency-sting/article (2021)
- https://billingsgazette.com/new-mexico-man-gets-prison-time-for-prostituting-a-child/article (2022)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- Illinois-Billings child prostitution link suspected (1983)
- “Men Charged with Making Girl Prostitute,” Ocala Star-Banner, December 21 1984.
- “Juvenile,” Deseret News, July 6 1993.
- “Woman Charged with Promoting 17-Year-Old for Prostitution, Held on $35,000 Bond,” Billings Gazette, December 24 2015.
- https://www.kulr8.com/news/billings-man-charged-with-coercing-women-to-provide-commercial-sex-at-2-massage-parlors/article (2019)
- https://www.justice.gov/billings-massage-parlor-owner-admits-enticing-workers-provide-sexual-services (2021)
- https://www.krtv.com/man-sentenced-to-prison-in-montana-for-human-trafficking (2022)
- https://billingsgazette.com/billings-man-admits-to-role-in-drug-and-prostitution-scheme (2022)
- https://billingsgazette.com/man-gets-prison-time-for-prostituting-child (2022)
- https://www.victoriaadvocate.com/human-trafficking-in-montana/video (2023)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Scarlet Women Are Given Time; Billings Mayor Fails to Compel Them to Get out and They Are Allowed Two Months’ Leeway,” Roundup Record, November 28 1913.
- Billings Man Charged with Prostitution (1976)
- “Prostitutes Help Law,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, August 8 1980.
- “People Pestered by Prostitutes,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, March 17 1983.
- Prostitution Arrests Rise in Billings (1983)
- “Police Rapped for Not Arresting Billings Prostitutes’ Customers,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, November 17 1983.
- Prostitution discrimination (1983)
- “8 Charged with Prostitution,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, January 16 1985.
- “Gregory L. McFarland and Myong Suk McFarland Sentenced in U.S. District Court,” Press Release, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana, February 1 2012.
- “Billings Man Sentenced for Promoting Prostitution from Jail,” Ravalli Republic, June 19 2013.
- “Neighbor Describes Interactions with Prostitution Business Owners,” NBC/KULR-TV 8, August 20 2013.
- “California Man Sentenced for Prostitution-Related Racketeering Charges,” NBC/KULR-TV 8, November 6 2015.
- “California Man Admits Bringing 2 Women to Billings to Make Money on Prostitution,” Billings Gazette, March 2 2016.
- https://www.greatfallstribune.com/prostitution-gambling-widespread-throughout Montana (2018)
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- https://missoulian.com/crime-and-courts/billings-man-accused-of-sex-trafficking-minor-creating-videos-of-animal-cruelty/article (2021)
- https://newstalk955.com/billings-man-sentenced-for-sex-trafficking-prostitution-crimes/ (2022)
- Billings man sentenced to more than 26 years in prison for sex trafficking, firearms and prostitution-related crimes (2022)
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