A 39-year-old Columbia Heights man was sentenced Wednesday to 21 years in prison for prostituting a 17-year-old girl out of a Roseville motel for several weeks until an inquisitive manager found the teenager's services being advertised on the Internet and alerted police.

The sentence for Samuel Cozart, who pleaded guilty in Ramsey County District Court in April, also requires that he register as a sex offender.

"Our justice system sent a strong message today to those who prostitute young girls in our community," County Attorney John Choi said in a statement. "This significant sentence is a declaration that Ramsey County will hold traffickers of prostitution accountable for their crimes."

According to authorities:

The girl first gave officers a fake age to appear as if she were an adult. But she soon broke down and asked for help. She said that Cozart was her pimp, and that he gave her methamphetamine and split the cash that customers paid for sex at the Days Inn, near the County Road C exit of Interstate 35W.

The case surfaced in late January when the motel manager's boyfriend was waiting for her to get off work. He was approached by Cozart, who asked where he could get phony identification for a 17-year-old. Cozart was apparently unaware that the boyfriend knew the manager.

The boyfriend shared the exchange with the manager, who immediately hunted for Cozart's information online. She discovered an escort service known as M.A. Entertainment on www.backpage.com that featured the girl. Convinced that Cozart was running an illegal escort service out of Room 222, the manager called the police. When officers arrested Cozart, he was carrying $1,020 in $20 and $100 bills.

Investigators determined that the girl had been selling herself in exchange for money and methamphetamine, and they discovered that Cozart and the girl were on the way to visit a john in the Litchfield, Minn., area before police arrived.

Cozart's criminal history includes arrests in several states for armed robbery, illicit drugs, counterfeiting, drunken driving and theft, the charging document read.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482