North St. Paul Police assist in underage sex sting


photos courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office / graphic courtesy Thomas Bonneville • Nearly 20 men, aged between 20 and 60 and from all over the metro area, were recently charged in Ramsey County for allegedly attempting to have sex with minors following a sting operation that brought the men to a North St. Paul apartment earlier this year.

Undercover investigations lead to charges against 19 men

Undercover police investigations proved fruitful when, between July 25 and Aug. 1, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office brought charges against 19 men who showed up to an undercover apartment in North St. Paul with the alleged intentions of having sex with minors. 

All 19 men, who reside in cities throughout the metro area, were discovered during a sting conducted Jan. 25 through 29 by members of the Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the North St. Paul Police Department.

In most instances, according to court documents, undercover police officers made posts on dating apps or websites, posing as a young male or female. 

The most popular platform was the Craigslist “Casual Encounters” board in the website’s personal advertisements section. Craigslist closed its personal ads section in March after the U.S. Senate passed the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” which allows websites like Craigslist to be sued for sex trafficking ads posted on their platform.

Other platforms used in the sting included Skout, Plenty of Fish, Grindr and Backpage.com.

Many of these platforms require users to be at least 18 years old, so the underage personas often listed a legal age of 18, 19 or 20 in their profile or initial post. However, when men made contact with the persona, it was revealed that the persona’s age was actually between 14 and 16.

According to court documents, most men who responded to the posts discontinued conversations with the persona once it was made known he or she was underage, although some continued emailing and texting sexually explicit messages and photos of their genitalia. 

The 19 who were recently charged allegedly chose to meet with an underage persona, in person, for sex. The ages of the men ranged from 21 to 59 at the time of their arrests.

 

A typical case

A particular undercover Craigslist post received about 175 email responses, according to court documents -- the content was typical of the other posts made by the underage personas.

The post said, “Hi :) Young sexy girl seeking older guy for fun. Not a tun experienced but super excited to have some fun with someone. Im 5-4 tall, petite, and mature for my age. Email and we can exchange numbers.”

About an hour after the initial post, Zachary Miranowski, a 26-year-old from Andover, allegedly reached out to the persona, named Heather, and the two began texting back and forth. When “Heather” was asked her age, court documents say she responded, “st paul high schoolin 15 gonna be 16 in a couple monthskids my age suk.”

The two exchanged photographs and Miranowski allegedly turned the conversation toward sex by referencing intercourse with “Heather” in a dressing room, movie theater and car. He also allegedly requested that she shave her genitals, which, along with a request for the persona to wear yoga pants, was repeated by several of the 19 men throughout the sting.

Miranowski allegedly agreed to meet “Heather” at her apartment in North St. Paul, where he was later arrested.

 

Playing teacher

On other occasions, police officers, under the guise of various personas, responded to posts made by men, according to court documents. On some occasions the personas were of underage teens, but on at least one occasion the persona was of a sex trafficker or someone speaking on behalf of a child. 

One post made on Craigslist’s Casual Encounters board made it clear the man who posted it, later determined to be Jeremy Osterhout, a 30-year-old from New Hope, was allegedly looking for a virgin or a woman with “little experience.” According to court documents, when the persona asked Osterhout via text message how old of a woman he was looking for, Osterhout allegedly responded, “15 on up.”

The persona stated that the woman in mind would “turn 15 soon.” Osterhout allegedly indicated that it wouldn’t be a problem, adding that he was looking for sex for an hour.

“I want to teach someone who may want to experience sex for the first time or is interested in exploring her sexuality,” he allegedly said, according to court documents. His expressed desire to teach a young person about sex was common, according to court documents, among most of the 19 men charged.

Like the others, Osterhout was arrested after he arrived at a North St. Paul apartment allegedly with the intention of having sex with an underage girl.

 

Knowing it was wrong

Although some of the men made it clear they didn’t care that the persona was underage, others allegedly made careful note of it, like Aryeh Cohen, a 44-year-old from St. Louis Park, who allegedly asked a male persona named Sam, “A bit young for this?” after “Sam” told him he would be 16 in August. 

The two met on Grindr, an app geared toward helping homosexual men meet other homosexual men. Despite expressing reservations, many, like Cohen, allegedly continued to steer the conversation toward a sexual encounter.

“Would you want to have some fun with me,” Cohen asked “Sam.” He then listed a number of sexual acts they would perform, though he also allegedly noted again later that, “It’s a little illegal.” Still, Cohen came to the undercover apartment to allegedly meet with the persona and was arrested.

Of the 19 men who were charged as a result of the undercover operation, there were 15 felony charges for engaging in electronic communication relating or describing sexual conduct with a child and six felony charges of soliciting someone believed to be a child through electronic communication to engage in sexual conduct.

Some men were charged with both; each carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison, $5,000 fine, or both.

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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