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Twin Cities Law Enforcement Coordinate Multi-County Online Prostitution Sting

By: Joseph Tamburino

The Star Tribune recently reported that law enforcement agencies in the Twin Cities are coordinating a multi-county, multi-police department sting operation on people who allegedly use prostitution services from online sites. (See "Stings to fight sex trafficking lead to charges across the metro" Star Tribune, September 30, 2015.) So far, it has led to numerous interrogations, over a dozen felony charges, and the public disclosure of arrested persons' names, ages, and cities of residence. The sting has been very active and dozens of more charges are expected.

The sting appears to involve the following activities:

  • Undercover police set up online ads on sites like "Backpages.com;"
  • The ads are placed under search titles such as - escorts, adult entertainment, or massages;
  • The ads never explicitly advertise sexual services for money, but they subtly hint that sexual contact could occur under certain circumstances;
  • The ads end with a request to text the person involved;
  • A person answers the ad by texting the number provided to them; and
  • A conversion via texting occurs between the undercover officer operating the ad and the person who allegedly wants personal services.

The conversation between the parties often starts off with the undercover officer asking the person what kind of services they are interested in and the person usually answers by talking about a sex act. The undercover officer then starts telling the person that he/she is really into whatever sex act is suggested and that they should meet soon. This sparks the person's interest even more, and the parties further discuss what they would do together and when/where they should meet. The undercover officer will typically mention a fee for services, which may or may not elicit a response. Usually, after the parties engage in some mutual banter, the undercover officer casually mentions that he/she is under 18 years old which immediately changes the tenor of the dialogue.

After the age issue is disclosed, the conversation usually concludes in one of two ways - the person ends the talk (which means the investigation ends) or the person starts to say that he's not interested in underage people and is nervous about the whole situation. After that, the undercover officer typically would tell the person that everything is fine, they're not a cop, and that they still want to meet. Frequently, the person will agree to meet the undercover officer, and when the person arrives at the meeting place he/she is arrested. The arrested person is usually held in custody for a couple of days till they appear in court on felony charges alleging that they have hired or attempted to hire a juvenile for sex (prostitution involving a juvenile), which is a very serious charge.

Prostitution involving a juvenile is always a felony in Minnesota. A person convicted of such a charge could face a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Depending on the circumstances of the case, a person could face mandatory prison time and aggravated sentencing. Additionally, a person would be forced to register as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life.

In many of these cases the person (accused) is bewildered. They don't understand how they could be charged because they believe it was entrapment. They believe the whole situation is unfair because the undercover enticed them to continue to talk and agree to meet, even after they told the undercover that they were not comfortable with interacting with a juvenile. These feelings are understandable.

Entrapment may be a defense in prostitution sting cases. An accused would need to prove that he did not have the original intent to commit the specific crime. Rather, the government agent (undercover officer) instilled the original intent and induced the accused into committing the crime. In essence, the argument would be that the accused had the intent to commit prostitution but in no way intended to commit prostitution with a juvenile (an underage person). The accused may adamantly feel that they were coerced and/or induced into communicating with the juvenile. In which case, entrapment might be a successful defense.

If an accused is able to put forth a reasonable presentation of entrapment, then the burden of proof shifts back to the prosecutor and the prosecutor must then prove that the accused was not entrapped. Basically, an accused simply has to show the court that he believed he was induced or encouraged to commit the crime by the undercover officer and then the prosecutor has to prove that the accused was not entrapped.

Prostitution litigation is also personally difficult for the accused, in that it usually involves public disclosures to family and friends, publicity in the local media, arguments in public courtrooms, and conditions of release imposed on the accused while the case is pending. Many times litigation will take 6 months to a full year to complete, during which time an accused must forcefully defend his case.

If you or anyone you know is fighting prostitution charges in Minneapolis or anywhere throughout the Twin Cities, you must have an attorney who will vigorously defend you. At Caplan & Tamburino Law Firm, P.A., our Minneapolis criminal defense attorneys are passionate about protecting the rights and reputations of our clients.

To discuss your case and how we can help during a free and confidential consultation, contact us today.

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