Small town Minnesota police chief, 2 others arrested in soliciting minors for sex sting
REDWOOD FALLS, Minn.--A covert operation in Redwood County targeting the demand for underage sex trafficking has led to the arrest of three area men, including the police chief of the small southwestern Minnesota town of Walnut Grove. The arrests...
REDWOOD FALLS, Minn.-A covert operation in Redwood County targeting the demand for underage sex trafficking has led to the arrest of three area men, including the police chief of the small southwestern Minnesota town of Walnut Grove.
The arrests Friday were part of Operation Guardian Angel, a law enforcement sting.
The suspects include Police Chief Michael Robert Zeug, 45, Scott Glenn Berglund, 41, of Montevideo and Javier Bulmaro Turrubiartes, 40, of Renville.
The operation was a unique one and a first for Redwood County, said Redwood County Attorney Steven S. Collins.
"The goal of the operation is to identify those individuals who want to solicit minors for sex," Collins said.
Law enforcement officers carried out the sting by posting an advertisement on two websites, backpage.com and craigslist.com. The sites are commonly used by individuals looking to engage in commercial sex trafficking and prostitution, Collins said in a news release issued by his office.
The three suspects face charges of engaging in, hiring or agreeing to hire a minor to engage in prostitution, a felony under Minnesota law.
Zeug is accused of initiating communication with a person who he believed to be a 17-year-old girl
Zeug is a 1991 Tracy Area High School graduate and has been the police chief in Walnut Grove for 12 years, according to the Tracy Headlight-Herald.
Berglund also allegedly solicited sex with someone he believed was a 17-year-old girl.
Turrubiartes is alleged to have solicited sex with an individual he believed was a 15-year-old girl and also faces a charge of solicitation of children to engage in sexual conduct.
The multi-jurisdictional operation was conducted in partnership with the BLR Drug Task Force, the Minneapolis Police Department, the Woodbury Police Department, the Lower Sioux Police Department, the Sleepy Eye Police Department, the Redwood County Sheriff's Office and the Renville County Sheriff's Office.
Sex trafficking operates in the shadows so statistics are hard to come by. But according to a report compiled by the Minnesota Department of Health, 826 youths were served by a Safe Harbor program between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016. Referrals came from 55 different counties. Most were female and their average age was 15.
In 2013, the FBI listed the Twin Cities as the 13th largest center in the U.S. for child prostitution. Isolation and a lack of awareness and recognition of the problem also make rural Minnesota vulnerable to sex trafficking.
State authorities have been stepping up their response. The Safe Harbor law was passed in 2011, redefining children who engage in sexual exploitation as victims and survivors rather than criminals. The law also increased penalties against commercial sex abusers and purchasers.
In a report this year to the Minnesota Legislature, the Department of Public Safety noted a significant increase in training for law enforcement to identify and respond to human trafficking cases.