A dayslong sting operation in Bloomington hotels this month landed 14 men in jail on allegations they offered to pay for sex from officers posing as adults or minors, police announced this week.
The operation spanned from Sept. 13 to Wednesday. The men were booked into the city jail and then released ahead of being charged in the weeks to come. The Star Tribune generally does not identify suspects before they are charged.
Police said five of the men pursued sex with someone they thought was a minor, which would be a felony. Paying for sex with an adult is a gross misdemeanor.
Investigators on the detail created an advertisement with photos of an undercover officer and posted them on websites that are used by those seeking services from a sex worker.
"Amsterdam has the Red Light District. We do not have the Red Light District in Bloomington; we have the Orange Jumpsuit District," Police Chief Booker Hodges said at a news conference Wednesday, referencing the infamous area within the European city where anything goes, along with the uniforms provided to jail inmates.
The chief then held up a map, reviewed the borders for a city with many thousands of rooms in dozens of hotels and added, "And I know sometimes people are slow learners. In Bloomington, we do not have the Red Light District."
Hodges had on display the jail booking photos — names included — of all 14 suspects and offered sometimes off-beat synopses for some of the men and their alleged transgressions.
As he raised an enlarged photo of a 24-year-old security guard from Woodbury, the chief said, "[He] came to our city to engage with a minor female, so he's going to be charged for trying to pursue a juvenile for sex.
"A security guard. C'mon, man. Really? ... I don't know if he's going to be a security guard any longer after this, but there is a staffing shortage, so we'll see how that works out for him."
While most of the suspects are in their 20s and 30s, the youngest is 18 and the oldest 64, according to police. All are from the Twin Cities, except for a 29-year-old man from Alabama.
Hodges said several who responded to the planted ad indicated that they would rather meet decoys anywhere but Bloomington.
"So the word is getting out," the chief said, "but obviously, 14 people didn't get that memo, and they got locked up."
In a more sober tone, the police statement pointed out that "when interviewed, victims often speak about being abused when they were children, experiencing brain health issues, and struggles with narcotics addiction. Victims report past experiences of physical and sexual abuse by both their traffickers and by those who seek them out for services."
Joining Bloomington police in the operation were investigators from the Eden Prairie, Roseville and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport police departments.
In March, Bloomington police carried out a sting operation run in the same fashion that snared 23 men. More than 200 people responded to the online ad in that operation, police said.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking. Please contact dayoneservices.org or the Minnesota Human Trafficking hotline at 1-877-996-6222.