A St. Paul man and woman have been charged with allegedly trafficking a 15-year-old girl out of their home.
Johnathan B. Edwards, 24, and Kauser M. Yusuf, 21, were charged this week in Ramsey County District Court with first-degree engaging in sex trafficking after the girl told police that the pair made her have sex with up to 20 men a day.
“St. Paul Police should be commended for their quick response in investigating this case, which was brought to their attention through Backpage.com. The sad fact remains, however, that our children — like this 15 year old girl — continue to be bought and sold on Backpage.com on a daily basis,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a statement.
Backpage.com has been under increasing scrutiny as police and child advocates say that it regularly features trafficked victims on its ad site.
According to the complaint:
On Nov. 25, the St. Paul Police Department’s human trafficking unit received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that the organization had been e-mailed by ad site Backpage.com about an e-mail from a possible child sex trafficking victim.
The e-mail to Backpage said: “These pictures was taking of me and posted on backpage the people that posted them have been making me sleep with the guys that called im only 15 years old …. Please help….”
The e-mail pertained to a Nov. 24 advertisement on the site. In the ad titled “Make A Wish I Kno You See My Twinkle’s — 19,” a young female named “Star” was shown in lingerie. A part of the ad read: “Come spend a night with me I’m gonna make you reach for the stars … I can turn this cold weather, & boring night to the best night of ur life …”
The ad was placed from e-mail address Yusufkauser@yahoo.com and from a computer at Edwards’ and Yusuf’s home. Investigators discovered that the phone number in the ad was being rolled over to Yusuf’s phone number.
When they got the tip, police conducted a welfare check at the home. While officers didn’t locate any juveniles, they did find a black sheet separating the poorly lit bedroom in the back of the house from the rest of the home, along with an inflatable mattress on the floor and several pairs of female thong underwear. Edwards and Yusuf, who was extremely nervous, were home at the time, police said.
Police were able to locate a 15-year-old girl who said that this past July she met Edwards, whom she called “Johno,” and Yusuf, or “KK,” in St. Paul.
The girl said they gave her a ride to a Maplewood hotel where Johno took cellphone pictures of her in lingerie before they all went to their house. The girl said that the pair put the photos of her on the Internet.
The teenager said the pair had men come over to their house to have sex with her. The girl said she did not get any of the money. She estimated that she had sex with seven to 20 men a day at the house.
The girl would sometimes run away from the home and then return when Edwards and Yusuf would contact her through social media. In September, Edwards and the girl were involved in a car accident in Apple Valley in which wigs and lingerie were found in their vehicle.
On Tuesday, officers searched Edwards’ and Yusuf’s home. Police confiscated several items, including two photos of the girl dressed in the same outfit that she was wearing in the Backpage ad.
Officers arrested Edwards and Yusuf, who admitted to police that she knew the girl but denied trafficking her. Yusuf was released because she is nine months pregnant. Edwards denied knowing the girl.
Edwards made his first court appearance Thursday afternoon. Yusuf will have her first appearance on Feb. 25.