BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Two Bemidji men face felony charges after Bemidji police said they responded to an online ad seeking sex with a minor girl.
The department launched an investigation into predators seeking sex with minors in the Bemidji area in February.
"These arrests are a result of ongoing efforts by local law enforcement to combat child sex trafficking in the Bemidji area," Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin said in a release Wednesday.
On Feb. 7, the department placed an online ad containing two female profiles with photos; one profile was of a 15-year-old girl, "Cheyenne," and the other a 20-year-old woman, "Skye." The ad included prices for time and sex acts with each profile and a phone number, according to court documents. The next day, the department had its first response.
Joseph Robert Cook Jr., 52, texted the phone number asking if the "girls" were still in town, court documents stated. An undercover officer responded to Cook's message saying, "I'm a little younger. I'm 15."
Last Saturday the undercover officer texted Cook informing him Skye and Cheyenne were in Bemidji for the weekend. According to court documents, Cook texted that he specifically wanted to meet 15-year-old Cheyenne for sexual intercourse and he would pay. A meeting at a local hotel was arranged and when Cook arrived at the room, he met an undercover officer and was arrested.
Jerry Erno Hemstad, 61, of Bemidji also responded to an online ad Saturday. The advertisement was placed Thursday. Through a series of text messages, Hemstad agreed to pay $150 to have sex with a 15-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman, according to court documents. When Hemstad arrived at the same local hotel room as Cook, he was arrested and transported to the Beltrami County Law Enforcement Center on charges for solicitation of children to engage in sexual conduct, court documents said.
Cook and Hemstad appeared in Beltrami County District Court on Tuesday. Future court dates have not been set.
Engaging in electronic communication relating or describing sexual conduct with a child is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Two other Minnesota men, a 62-year-old from Apple Valley and a 24-year-old from Alexandria, also responded to the ad but since they were interested in sex with an adult, they are being charged with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution.
Bemidji Police were assisted by the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force and Minneapolis Police Department in this investigation.