Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - An undercover operation in the Northland has netted six arrests related to prostitution and human trafficking.
A joint operation between the Superior and Duluth Police Departments, Douglas County Sheriff and Department of Homeland Security ran the week of August 11th.
During the operation, authorities placed a fictitious ad online offering sex services from a young female. Ronald Eugene Provost, a 51–year–old Foxboro, Wisconsin man, responded to the post. He continued to correspond with the undercover officer even after the officer told him she was only 15 years old.
Authorities say he sent pornographic images to the phone he thought was being used by the fifteen–year–old.
Undercover officers arranged a meeting with the man at a hotel for sex. When he arrived he was arrested for child enticement and causing a child to view or listen to sexual activity. Provost is now facing a $100,000 fine and up to 25 years in prison for child enticement and a $10,000 fine and up to 6 years in prison for causing a child to view or listen to sexual activity.
Meanwhile, authorities posted another fictitious online ad offering sex for money with an adult female. Five Northland men responded to the ad and agreed to meet the undercover officers at a local hotel.
Lawrence Albert DePaulis, 70; John Walter Kontny, 51; David Leon McCloud, 29; Wayne Morris Everette, 60; and Kale Steven Edinger, 37, have all been charged with prostitution and are facing a $10,000 fine and up to 9 months in prison.
Authorities say a bust like this is not the first sex trafficking and prostitution bust they have made.
"We did a previous operation and we arrested somewhere in the area of 10 to 12 people over a couple week span. Now, six on this one, so in just two operations there has been a significant number of arrests, which, I think, does exemplify the potential problem out there," said Deputy Chief Nicholas Alexander of the Superior Police Department.
Officials used the websites Backpage and Craigslist in the operation which they say are the ones most used to solicit sexual services.
"It helps create some awareness that in such a short period of time an ad can be posted online and that there is enough people out there willing to pay and engage in sex services," said Alexander.
Leaders at organizations such as the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault PAVSA say a bust like this means they need to work together with other agencies to combat the problem.
"It just shows that this is an issue here and that we have to keep an eye on it. No one agency, no one person can do all the work," said Nigel Perrote, Trafficking Program Regional Navigator at PAVSA.
On August 1, 2014, the Safe Harbor law went into effect in Minnesota. The law supports youth who have been victims of sex trafficking.
PAVSA is in the process of getting a grant to get more money to help those victims.
"Safe Harbors has an additional $900,000 that they're offering state wide to service providers to expand on services for trafficked youth, so we are working on that right now," Perrote.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center in 2013, they received 300 phone calls from people about sex trafficking activities in Minnesota. The tip line in Wisconsin received 197 phone calls.
Posted to the web by Kati Anderson.