A St. Paul man and woman have been charged with felony sex trafficking for forcing a 15-year-old girl to work as a prostitute.
Ramsey County prosecutors say Johnathan Edwards, 24, and Kauser Mohamoud Yusuf, 21, met the girl in St. Paul this summer and posted an advertisement on Backpage.com soliciting men to have sex with her, according to criminal complaints.
The girl told police Edwards and Yusuf forced her to have sex with seven to 20 men each day in a house near the intersection of University Avenue West and Dale Street North in St. Paul, according to the complaints. She told police that Edwards and Yusuf made money from the men, but she saw none of it, the complaints said.
Police arrested Edwards and Yusuf on Tuesday, but released Yusuf because she is nine months pregnant. Edwards had his first court appearance Thursday and Yusuf has hers on Feb. 25, according to police. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in jail, a $50,000 fine or both.
"As we have in past trafficking cases, we will do everything we can to hold the defendants accountable for their crimes, while ensuring this 15 year old victim gets the support and services she needs to begin to heal from this horrible ordeal," Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a news release.
Backpage.com, a classified advertising website, received an email from the victim asking for help and saying she had been advertised on the website. The complaints said the victim's Backpage ads had pictures of the girl and referred to her as a 19-year-old woman looking for men to pay her for sex.
The complaints said the victim's email to Backpage read: "These pictures was taking of me and posted on Backpage the people that posted them have been making me sleep with the guys that called im only 15 years old.... Please help.... "
On Nov. 25, the website sent that tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to the complaints. The NCMEC then tipped off St. Paul police, which traced the Backpage message to a house in St. Paul's West Frogtown neighborhood.
Officers went to the address, but didn't find the girl or any minors. But officers did find Edwards and Yusuf, and noticed that a bedroom was sectioned off from the rest of the house by a black sheet, according to the complaints.
Further investigation led police to the girl, whose pictures hung in the house, the complaints said.
"Saint Paul Police should be commended for their quick response in investigating this case, which was brought to their attention through Backpage.com," Choi said in the news release. "The sad fact remains, however, that our children -- like this 15 year old girl -- continue to be bought and sold on Backpage.com on a daily basis."