A prostitution sting operation has netted at least two dozen people in Hennepin County. Law enforcement officials say the multi-jurisdictional task force was formed to crack down on Super Bowl sex trafficking.
So far, there's no indication of a major uptick in trafficking tied to the big game. Only one man charged in the course of the operation is allegedly in town for the Super Bowl.
Prosecutors say Justin Glake Beard, 33, of Branson, Mo., answered a Craigslist ad which he believed was posted by the father of a 15-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy, charging $200 for both of the children for an hour. According to the complaint, Beard told the father he was in town to work at Super Bowl LIVE and offered VIP passes in exchange for sex.
But the person posing as the kids' father was actually an undercover police officer. Minnetonka police arrested Beard at a pre-arranged meeting site.
Court records show that last weekend, at least two dozen people were arrested and charged in Hennepin County with some degree of attempting to buy sex. In more than half the cases, they answered online ads and arranged to meet up with girls they believed to be 15 or younger, leading to felony charges. The others were cited with misdemeanors for attempting to buy sex from adults.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the task force is sending a strong message to would-be offenders.
"It's an opportunity to get the word out if people are watching TV or reading newspapers or listening to radios, that we're out there. That cops are operating stings in these communities. They're doing a good job. And when you put a little more emphasis of law enforcement, you often come up with more cases," Freeman said.
Research from the University of Minnesota has found that the Super Bowl does coincide with an uptick in online advertising for sex. However, researchers found no evidence to show there's more trafficking than at any other large event.
Still, some say now is a good time to showcase efforts designed to combat the exploitation of young people. Amanda Koonjbeharry manages a Hennepin County program for young people who have been or are at risk of being sexually exploited. She said even if no youth were involved in the latest operation, "we're not always as lucky. And that's why it's so important to remember that this issue is happening 365 days a year. And to send the message that our interventions and our prevention measures need to also happen 365 days a year."
But some are not convinced that a sting operation is the most effective way to use law enforcement resources. Teresa Nelson, legal director for the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU, said "focusing on the people who have been causing victimization, who've been forcing women and girls into this situation, I think is more effective at protecting these girls and women."
Freeman said the task force will continue working after Feb. 4. He expects more charges in the coming week.