As part of a national sex trafficking sting that coincided with the Super Bowl, St. Paul police last week arrested a 27-year-old man accused of holding two 18-year-old women against their will and forcing them into sex trafficking.
Melvin N. Stewart, of Minneapolis, was charged Jan. 31 in Ramsey County District Court with second-degree engaging in sex trafficking.
The multistate operation led to the arrests of 359 men soliciting sex and 14 others who were arrested on sex trafficking charges, said Thomas J. Dart, the sheriff of Cook County, Ill. The sting lasted from Jan. 23 through Super Bowl Sunday.
States participating in the crackdown included Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, said a spokesman for Dart.
According to the criminal complaint involving Stewart:
On Jan. 29, St. Paul officers found posts on Backpage.com advertising escort services for a woman who "looked extremely young." When an undercover officer called the number listed, a woman, who identified herself as "Honey," agreed to meet him.
Later that day, she arrived in a vehicle at the St. Paul meeting location. The woman agreed to have sex with the undercover officer for $100, at which time police arrested her. Police found Stewart sitting in the front passenger seat of the vehicle and another man as the driver. The driver said the woman had offered him money for the ride.
The woman told police that Stewart was her pimp. She said she was originally from Eau Claire, Wis., but had been kicked out of her parents' house. She said she and a female friend were at a hotel in Minneapolis when they met Stewart and another woman known as "Bird."
Stewart and Bird offered to take the woman and her friend to breakfast the next morning, but instead they brought them to a motel in Brooklyn Center. Bird then took pictures of the woman and Stewart allegedly put up the ad of her on the Backpage website.
The woman said that she was trafficked about five times. Her friend was advertised with the name "Carmel." The two would take calls on Stewart's phone and appear on chat lines and Craigslist to make money for Stewart. The woman said that she told Stewart and Bird that she wanted to leave, but Stewart said she would have to pay him at least $150 before she would be allowed to go.
The woman told police she was being held against her will and so was her friend. When police found the friend at the motel, she verified the woman's account. She told police that she was afraid to leave because she didn't want something to happen to her friend.
The investigation showed that Stewart had rented a room at the hotel for two days. Stewart declined formal interviews with law enforcement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.