94 arrested during Super Bowl sex trafficking operation

Minneapolis police Sgt. Grant Snyder introduces members of his "Guardian Angel" team, which conducts undercover stings targeting would-be buyers of juvenile sex.

Local law-enforcement agencies arrested 94 men for agreeing to purchase underage sex during an 11-day Super Bowl sting, a Minneapolis Police sergeant said Tuesday.

A team of 50 law-enforcement personnel, both sworn and civilian, made 90 felony arrests, three gross misdemeanor arrests and one misdemeanor arrest, Sgt. Grant Snyder said. Over 80 percent of the men arrested were between the ages of 21 and 50, and most had no criminal history other than traffic offenses.

“In each of these cases, none of these men, I think it can be argued, actually went on the marketplace, went into the marketplace (or) went on the various ad sites looking for a juvenile,” Grant said.

The sting came nearly four years after the “Guardian Angel” sting operation began with a single decoy ad. Snyder said a core team has conducted or supported as many as 100 operations in seven states in the years since, resulting in almost 1,000 felony arrests.

“Our conviction rate approaches 98 percent,” he said. “Point to another crime that has that high of a conviction rate.”

Snyder said 9,976 ads were posted on multiple online sites during the 11-day Super Bowl operation, a number not statistically different than the typical period in Minneapolis. He said 1,560 individual people responded to his team’s decoy ads.

Forty-one of the arrested men were white, 20 were Hispanic, 12 were black, 11 were Asian and two were Indian. Five were between the ages of 18 and 20, and one was between the ages of 71 and 80.

Snyder said that men between the ages of 41 and 50 was the largest single population of buyers two years ago. He said it’s important to know age information so law enforcement can target potential buyers through outreach and prevention strategies.

Snyder also said that men of color made up a larger proportion of arrestees than two years ago. He said increased outreach efforts appear to be successfully reaching white men but not serving people of color as well.

Law enforcement made made in-person contact with 28 potential victims during the 11 days, Snyder said, adding that half of them came from outside Minnesota. Adult Asian women made up the highest proportion of victims, Snyder said, adding that Asian women, primarily adult Chinese women who either are undocumented or overstay in the U.S., are among the most vulnerable.

The Super Bowl team consisted of personnel from local, state and federal agencies, along with its service partners, Minneapolis-based Source MN and YouthLink MN. The nonprofits organized service-response teams from a variety of local nonprofits and agencies, such as The Link, Breaking Free and Cornerstone.

The team worked more than 7,000 hours during the operation, Snyder said.

“Simply, they did whatever we asked them to do,” Snyder said.

Trafficking starts online

Laura Mulliken, director of community engagement for SourceMN, said 80 percent of trafficking in Minnesota starts with an online interaction.

“That makes those women really difficult to find,” she said. “You aren’t going to find them on street outreach as we kind of typically historically thought about it.”

SourceMN has developed over the last two years an outreach program to women who are being sold online, Mulliken said. The organization makes contract with them over text, offers to get together with them and reminds them that “they are valuable and loved just as they are,” she said.

“They, over time, many times, will reach back to us for resources or a next step” Mulliken said.

Mulliken said 40 churches came together to create a 20-bed shelter space at Hope Community Church in downtown Minneapolis during the Super Bowl week.

“It was just a beautiful place of safety for them to just be who they were,” she said.