The men were allegedly part of a group that connected online to hire out-of-state escorts.
For at least three years, the secret lives of 30 "Minnesota Nice Guys" who allegedly tapped into an online network for liaisons with exotic women stayed behind bedroom doors.
On Wednesday, seven of the men were charged with soliciting prostitution as part of a long-term investigation into the Nice Guys. The group of business owners, lawyers, accountants and mortgage bankers gave themselves the nickname because they considered themselves safe from police detection and would treat the high-priced prostitutes in a sophisticated way, according to investigators.
"Combating the sex trading in and victimization of women is very important to us," said Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal. "Any time we have cases that involve prostitution, we pursue them to hold johns accountable, and also to let potential johns know that Minneapolis is not the place to come if you're looking to engage in prostitution."
Charged with gross misdemeanor soliciting were Patrick A. Davidson, 42, of Oronoco; Alex N. Casterton, 36, of Chanhassen; Carl K. Walker, 45, of Andover; John P. Ball, 44, of Shakopee; John R. Stone, 62, of Grand Marais; John W. Zbaren, 65, of Vadnais Heights, and Mark A. Zuber, 59, of Arden Hills.
The alleged ringleader of the Nice Guys, former assistant Hennepin County attorney John St. Marie, 66, was charged three months ago with six felony counts of promoting prostitution. He has a court appearance scheduled next week.
The accusations against the Nice Guys became public in a Star Tribune article more than a year ago. The complex case also helped bring down MyFastPass.com, the Twin Cities' largest locally owned prostitution website. According to court documents, several of the Nice Guys said they used the site to find prostitutes, with one willing to pay $1,200 for an escort because reviews from other patrons indicated she was "passionate."
Two of the men declined to comment Wednesday and the other five didn't return phone calls. The two who were reached said they didn't know they had been charged.
Segal said two other men are under review for possible charges, and one other is likely to be referred to another agency for review.
Inquiry started in '08
Investigators said the Nice Guys ring was one of the most unusual they've seen in Minnesota and that its activities show how sophisticated sex-trafficking networks have become. The group operated for three years, its members getting weekly e-mails advertising women who flew into town from Florida, authorities said.
The investigation started in July 2008 after Minneapolis Police Sgt. Matt Wente and his partner in the department's Violent Offender Task Force, Sgt. Grant Snyder, got an anonymous e-mail from a john who said St. Marie was supplying illegal immigrants for prostitution. According to police, the e-mailer made contact with St. Marie at the Erotic Review, an international website for self-described "hobbyists" looking for high-dollar escorts.
The group got its name because members had clean backgrounds, regarded themselves as above mistreating the women and paid well, investigators said. They referred to themselves by hobby handles such as "The Z."
Zuber told police he was a member of MyFastPass for a couple of years but had dabbled in this "hobby" for much longer, court documents said. In response to an offer of $550 for two hours of sex, he wrote in an e-mail that "your presentation of this opportunity looks to be one of the best offers I ever had come along," according to the documents.
When Walker was arrested, court documents said, he told police, "I've been struggling a long time about why I do this. ... It's a cycle." Ball said he had an emotional connection with his escort, and wanted to kidnap and marry her, according to documents. He also told police after his arrest that "this hobby was a battle for him" and he hoped this was a turning point.
Police said it was a very expensive hobby. To meet a beautiful Colombian woman, Casterton was ready to pay $625, court documents said. Others, such as Zbaren, said he was expecting a reduced price for his escort's services because money was tight, the papers said.
Segal said she wanted to wait for potential felony charges in the case before her office pursued any related misdemeanor charges.
"We've taken these cases very seriously and today's charges are a result of that," she said. "We pursued these cases diligently, but it can take time."
David Chanen • 612-673-4465