An undercover sting in Dakota County earlier this month has led to felony charges against six men for trying to pay for sex with underage girls. It was the most recent victory for an operation based out of the Minneapolis Police Department that targets the sex trafficking of minors.
Officers posted a variety of ads online on Sept. 10 advertising 15 or 17-year-old girls available for sex. The men who responded were told the girls' ages and given instructions to meet at a Hastings hotel. The men were arrested after they arrived at the hotel room, according to the criminal complaints.
The six men each face at least one felony charge of soliciting a juvenile for prostitution. The men listed in the criminal complaints are Christopher Thomas Lauyans, 33, of Maplewood; Dallas Leonard Lloyd, 26, of Zimmerman; Phengie Lue Lee, 24, of Minneapolis; Kerry Joe Mausolf, 48, of Cottage Grove; Jason Michael Slattum, 36, of Stone City, Iowa; and Joshua Berry Wood, 39, of Rosemount.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said the charges were the result of collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and county attorneys in the region to identify and prosecute those who intend to buy sex from minors.
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"Social networking sites like Craigslist and Backpage.com have become an easy way for sex traffickers to market their product, and for buyers to locate opportunitites to purchase sex," Backstrom said. "My colleagues and I are committed to doing all we can with our great law enforcement partners to find and apprehend and convict those who are involved with this terrible and insidious trade."
The initiative, Operation Guardian Angel, has operated out of the Minneapolis Police Department for about a year and a half, said Sgt. Grant Snyder. Officers involved in the operation have assisted with investigations across the region.
"It's easy for us to think about sex trafficking and commercial sex happening on the mean streets of Minneapolis or Chicago or Los Angeles," Snyder said. "But this is mainstream, everyday, any city, United States. This is the reality in our communities"
Officials said the operation is in keeping with the spirit of Minnesota's safe harbor law, which was one of the first state laws offering services and counseling to underage victims of sex trafficking rather than criminal prosecution.
"It is a model now across the country in recognizing that juvenile victims of sex trafficking are not criminals," Backstrom said. "These are children who need counseling and services, and we want all of them to know that we're here to help them."
Officers involved in Operation Guardian Angel have so far participated in about a dozen sting operations that are expected to net charges against more than 50 people, Snyder said. Washington County Attorney Pete Orput charged 13 men with felonies earlier this month after a similar undercover sting in Woodbury.
"The real target of this is obviously the demand side," Snyder said. "We've crafted it to include specifically those men who are looking to purchase commercial sex from a juvenile."
The operation also includes faith-based partners, who can assist those struggling with attractions to minors.
"If they email me, we'll put them in touch with our faith-based partners that can give them the help and support they need to deal with these issues," Snyder said. "But if they won't, if they continue to click that mouse, if they respond to those ads, we're going to be there and we're going to find them."