Thousands of people descended on Minneapolis during Final Four weekend to watch a thrilling last act to what Jim McKay famously dubbed “the human drama of athletic competition.” The event culminated in Virginia’s overtime thriller against Texas Tech to take home the championship honors, just one year after suffering the ultimate March Madness indignity at the hands of Maryland-Baltimore County.
On a far less glorious note, some people came to Minneapolis for reasons other than college basketball.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension collared 58 people on accusations that included 47 arrests for solicitation of a minor and 11 more for potential charges of sex trafficking and promotion of prostitution.
What’s more, law enforcement rescued 28 victims, including one who’s underage, from having been allegedly trafficked.
“During the operation, suspects chatted on several social media platforms with undercover agents and investigators … Investigators arrested the suspects as they arrived at an arranged meeting place for an encounter,” the department’s news release said.
In essence, it was the old “Dateline NBC” segment “To Catch A Predator” — minus the news cameras.
“This operation is an example of the aggressive steps necessary to stop traffickers and johns who buy and sell people for sex in our communities,” said BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. “We can’t let this crime continue, and we must work together to stop it.”
This was a massive combined effort on the part of Twin Cities-area, statewide and even federal law enforcement.
According to the release, the scope of the operation was nearly beyond imagination.
“The operation was carried out by personnel from 33 criminal justice agencies and was part of the ongoing work of the Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force. The Task Force is led by the BCA and includes investigators from the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Buffalo police departments, the Anoka and Hennepin County sheriff’s offices, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.
“Many Task Force affiliate agencies lent resources to this particular effort, including the Bemidji, Blaine, Brooklyn Park, Cambridge, Coon Rapids, Duluth, Howard Lake, Maplewood, Owatonna, Rochester, Thief River Falls and Upper Sioux police departments, and the Crow Wing, Kanabec and Pope County sheriff’s offices.
“Additional agencies provided expertise and resources including the Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina, Oakdale, Plymouth, St. Cloud and Woodbury police departments, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the Hennepin and Washington County attorney’s offices and the BCA-led Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
“Several victim advocate organizations also provided services during victim recoveries including Alexandria House, Breaking Free and The Link.”
Regional law enforcement had no sympathy for the people they arrested, speaking of them in the harshest of terms.
“Preying on vulnerable children in our communities is perhaps the most despicable act possible,” said Special Agent in Charge Tracy J. Cormier of HSI St. Paul. “The victims of sex trafficking pay a price that lasts a lifetime and I couldn’t be more proud of the efforts of HSI’s special agents, and those of our excellent state and local law enforcement partners, to bring to justice to those who seek to victimize children.”
“The results of this operation are a perfect example of what can happen when law enforcement agencies work closely together,” said Hennepin County Sheriff David P. Hutchinson. “We are pleased to be involved in the arrest of some very bad people involved in human trafficking, but far more important is the number of people rescued from trafficking situations. My sincere thanks to every agency involved.”
Several cops involved in the proceedings made reference to the basketball event that, if you’re the type to find silver linings in unspeakable human atrocities, served as the perfect worm on the hook for police to go fishing for criminals and catch enough to fill the fishing boat cargo holds, so to speak, in area jails.
“Sex trafficking, like people playing basketball, goes on all year long. But when major events come to our town, the criminals follow and law enforcement and prosecutors have a chance to make a big impact,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said. “That is what happened here, and we already have charged 12 defendants in Hennepin County, with more coming.”
The Virginia Cavaliers may be basketball champions, but for at least 28 victims of human trafficking, the real Final Four MVPs were the brave men and women in law enforcement who dunked on the criminals.
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