When Ramsey County Attorney John Choi today (Thursday) announced a new partnership to crackdown on sex trafficking of minors, a recent case in Roseville highlighted how cooperation can pay off.
The new initiative that is bringing together law enforcement officials, the lodging industry and advocacy groups comes on the heels of a Ramsey County district judge in June sentencing 39-year-old Samuel Cozart, of Columbia Heights, to 21 years in prison for promotion of prostitution of a 17-year-old girl at a Roseville hotel.
At Thursday's press conference at the Roseville Radisson Hotel, Choi said that the Roseville case showed the hotel industry can make a difference in combatting sex trafficking.
According to the criminal complaint, on Jan. 24, Roseville Police were called to the Days Inn Hotel in Roseville by the manager who suspected a patron was prostituting an underage female. The manager explained to police that a quick internet check of the defendant’s name turned up an escort service known as M.A. Entertainment on www.backpage.com featuring the juvenile victim, according to Choi's office. (Click here to read the full post. )
Choi said it's not just the work of police and prosecutors, but "the engagement of our community" that can turn back the growing problem of sex trafficking. In Ramsey County, his office sees about seven to 10 sex trafficking cases a year, he said.
Roseville Police Chief Rick Mathwig said prostitution is not a victimless crime.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman agreed, saying, "The idea that a 13, 14, 15-year-old girl can be preyed upon by a pimp is repulsive."
In an interview after Choi's press conference, Mathwig said that in the Cozart case, if the hotel manager had not contacted police, where would the juvenile victim be? He noted Cozart had arranged to send the girl, a runaway, to Litchfield for a prostitution job until police intervened.
Mathwig added that it took the work of police, prosecutors and the courts to get Cozart off the streets.
Following Thursday's press conference, the first training session involving 20 hotels and motels and about 75 lodging industry employees in Ramsey County was convened. Choi said that getting the cooperation of the lodging industry is key in fighting sex trafficking.
“In almost every recent case involving child sex trafficking in Minnesota, the illegal transaction begins on Backpage.com and then too often ends up at a local hotel or motel in our community,” Choi said.
Meanwhile, the training session represented the starting point on how to properly identify and end sex trafficking, Choi said.
The training, entitled “Making a Difference: Ways to Help Prevent Sex Trafficking” included an overview of the problem by The Advocates for Human Rights. That talk was followed by a case history by representatives from Choi's office, Roseville Police and St. Paul Police.
“We applaud the leadership of John Choi and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, Minnesota Lodging Association, local convention and visitors bureaus and law enforcement for turning the spotlight on the sex trafficking of our youth and crafting a system-wide solution to shut it down,” said Women’s Foundation of Minnesota President and CEO, Lee Roper-Batker.
The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office said it is creating a training video for people who were unable to attend Thursday's training session. Choi said he hopes the program becomes a model that can be used in other communities across the state.