A former police chief, an attorney and six other area men are facing gross misdemeanor charges of soliciting prostitution in a public place following a sting by law enforcement in Baxter last month.
Charges were filed in Crow Wing County District Court against former Aitkin Police Chief Scott Leslie Smith, 62; Kevin Michael Desmet Groseclose, 27, Little Falls; Luke Daniel LaBorde, 31, Crosby; Matthew Kevin Berg, 32, Brainerd; Brent Michael Seivert, 42, Breezy Point; Eugene Paul Allord, 47, Little Falls; and Kevin Ames Chase, 49, Akeley.
Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan drafted a criminal complaint against an eighth man, Attorney Richard Albert Ohlsen, 71, Brainerd, although charges are currently pending after at least one county judge recused himself from signing the complaint.
A ninth individual was never charged.
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted previously told the Brainerd Dispatch the operation, which involved the Brainerd Police Department and the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office, is the first step toward uncovering the major players in sex trafficking in the Brainerd lakes area.
Between May 19-20, the men - known as "johns" - responded to an advertisement placed by Baxter police on Backpage.com, a classified advertising website the National Center on Sexual Exploitation says generates nearly 80 percent of all online prostitution advertising revenue. The post, placed under the "Escort" section, advertised the services of a fictional 22-year-old woman named Sunny. The ad stated the woman would be in town for one day only and provided fictional photos and a phone number.
The ad - titled "Fun and Frisky platinum BLONDE IN Town May 20th!!!!!" - read: "I'm super HOT & have tight lil' body for giving you a real TREAT!!!"
An undercover officer posing as Sunny on the phone set up appointments at a Baxter hotel with men who called or texted the provided phone number. According to the criminal complaints, the johns allegedly agreed on a price for either a half-hour or hour of time with Sunny.
On May 20, police arrested the men who knocked on the door of a hotel room where they believed Sunny was located.
Two men - LaBorde and Seivert - were transported to the Crow Wing County Jail May 20, while the other men were released at the officers' discretion and informed they would be summoned to court to face charges. Seivert is scheduled to appear for his omnibus hearing July 28 and LaBorde's omnibus hearing is scheduled Aug. 7. Smith, Groseclose, Berg, Allord and Chase were summoned to appear for their hearings Aug. 3.
Once the ad was placed, the undercover officer began receiving correspondence from several different phone numbers requesting more information. Most of the conversations began with the johns asking whether Sunny was in town, usually followed up by questions about what was offered and for how much. The following quoted material is taken verbatim from criminal complaints.
"Are you taking appointments or are you pretty booked up?" Berg allegedly stated in one text message before inquiring whether "full service" was an option.
"Full service" is a term familiar to law enforcement as meaning sexual intercourse.
"What is your rates?" Chase allegedly asked, stating he was looking for a "mutual massage."
"Hi sunny this is gene want to play," Allord allegedly sent, later asking for the price of a "half hr in call."
The term "in-call" refers to a case where the john goes to wherever the sex worker is located, versus "out-call," where the sex worker goes to the john.
"Well break itdown for me and I'll make it happen," Groseclose allegedly text messaged after inquiring whether Sunny was available the night before on May 19.
The undercover officer spoke on the phone with Seivert after missing his call, and Seivert apparently mistook Sunny as either a customer of his business or as inquiring about a boat for sale. Seivert then allegedly stated, "I know what it was. Jesus, how stupid I am. I seen your ad on Backpage."
Smith, the former police chief, appeared more cautious than many of the others, allegedly declining to discuss price or services over the phone. "Let's see when I get there," Smith apparently said to the undercover officer. Before entering the hotel, however, Smith allegedly agreed to a half hour of full service.
Cash and 'cover'
After each of the men knocked on the door of the provided hotel room, officers arrested them on suspicion of soliciting prostitution. Searches of the johns universally turned up cellphones with phone numbers matching those corresponding with the undercover officer and cash, typically equivalent to the arranged price.
Some of the johns were also carrying "cover," a slang term for condoms, often requested by sex workers as part of a transaction. Items found on LaBorde included $100 cash, a package of condoms, several beverages and a bouquet of roses.
Besides LaBorde and Seivert, who were transported to jail, the other men formally charged in the sting - Smith, Groseclose, Berg, Allord and Chase - admitted to agreeing to pay for sex at the scene, according to the complaints.
Smith told officers he believed full service "meant naked, messing around, sex, whatever."
Groseclose and Chase both admitted to expecting some sort of sexual activity, while Berg and Allord admitted they intended to have sexual intercourse with Sunny.
Goal is to end trafficking, chief says
Ultimately, Exsted said, the goal of law enforcement is not to only bust "johns" arranging sex with prostitutes, but to put an end to sex trafficking at its roots.
"I think what becomes very concerning is the trafficking piece of it, and as we get better educated from the advocates, we recognize the need for us to step in and at least try and start some type of enforcement," Exsted said in an earlier interview.
An arrest made by the Rochester Police Department in February provided information leading officers to believe an active market for paid sex exists in the Brainerd lakes area. Antwon Gilbert Robinson, known locally by the nickname "Gucci," was arrested for soliciting an undercover officer from Rochester to work as a prostitute in Brainerd. Robinson indicated he had other women working for him and men from the area were willing to pay $300 per hour for sex.
Robinson pleaded guilty to felony attempted solicitation/inducement of prostitution, an offense that carries a maximum sentence of 7 1/2 years in prison, a $20,000 fine or both. His sentencing is scheduled today.