19 men arrested during prostitution sting in Mounds View

Joshua Nielsen
Bulletin staff

A total of 19 men were arrested over a two-day period for responding to online advertisements to engage in prostitution at a Mounds View motel.

To catch the perpetrators, police placed phony ads on Backpage.com advertising sex at a motel in Mounds View. The men who responded were arrested after they gave money to an undercover female officer posing as a prostitute.

"We are happy with the results of this investigation," said Mounds View Police Chief Tom Kinney. "I would like to acknowledge the St. Paul Police Department for their expertise in this."

The investigation was led by members of the St. Paul Police Department, the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Mounds View Police Department.

Kinney said there have been a few similar undercover prostitution stings in Mounds View before, but none that yielded this many arrests. He also confirmed that one of the men arrested is advertising executive Bill Hillsman, 60, founder of North Woods Advertising in Minneapolis. Hillsman did ad campaign work for former Gov. Jesse Ventura, former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. A phone message left at Hillsman's advertising agency was not immediately returned.

According to the Mounds View Police Department, officers arrested the men on gross misdemeanor charges of engaging in prostitution in a public place on Monday, Oct. 28 and Tuesday, Oct. 29. Those men were released after booking, pending formal charges at a later time. Kinney said Mounds View's City Attorney Scott Riggs is looking over evidence and will be filing charges in the next couple of weeks.

In a June interview with the Bulletin, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in recent years prostitution has largely moved to the Internet. In response to this, police departments all over the county have been conducting sting operations like the one in Mounds View using the internet --placing false online ads on sites like Backpage.com to catch perpetrators.

Stings similar to the one in Mounds View have been conducted in neighboring suburbs, including Roseville, and police have sometimes solicited help from managers and staff at local motels. Undercover officers pose as johns (men who buy sex) or pimps, who arrange sexual encounters online.

Kinney said this latest investigation focused on the demand side of prostitution, going after the johns. Authorities believe reducing demand for prostitution will also reduce the number of young runaways and other vulnerable women involved in prostitution and human trafficking.

Choi said there is increasing demand for younger and younger girls, and noted some girls engaging in prostitution in Ramsey County have been as young as 12. He said last year, his office charged 12 individuals with trafficking children.

"Everyone in the county has made combating this a priority," Choi said.

Kinney said the ads police placed on Backpage did not suggest the prostitutes were underage.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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