Sex sting nets 13 seeking underage girls in Washington County

Washington County authorities have charged 13 men in a sex sting that had undercover officers posing as underage girls.

The men ranged in age from 20 to 59 and were arrested in three separate operations: Seven men were arrested in 2014, a half dozen others last week. Authorities posted online ads offering sex acts with young women, including one with a mother and her 14-year-old daughter.

The men arranged via text messages to meet the girls at the Red Roof Inn in Woodbury, where they found police waiting for them.

All 13 were charged with felonies last week. They face up to 10 years in prison in some cases.

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Washington County attorney Pete Orput said that Woodbury, Minneapolis and St. Paul police, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office as well as Homeland Security agents assembled a team to target juvenile child sex exploitation and human trafficking.

Orput said those aren't just urban problems, and that Washington County is trying to respond to an unacknowledged problem. He said there are 80 hotels in the county alone, where people may not be watching for such crimes.

"The perpetrators do a risk benefit analysis and think, 'Well, it's out in the suburbs. I just dip into a hotel and it's nothing, and they say it's a victimless crime.' They have that perception, and so does the public. They say 'This isn't my problem, this is St. Paul's problem,' and I'm trying to say no, no, it's our kids too that are involved or could be involved," said Orput. "We have it out here too."

Orput said he hopes to dedicate more resources to combating sex trafficking.

"We've got a lot of plans in the pipeline. We were just testing the water and now I think we know what we're doing and we're going to do a lot more."