Tag Archives: Pimps

80 Arrested in Prostitution Sting

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A collage of many of the 80 suspects arrested in a Polk County Sheriff’s Office prostitution sting. (Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

Detectives in Florida’s Polk County conducted a four day prostitution investigation that resulted in the arrests of 80 suspects, as well as rescuing at least one trafficked victim.

The investigation occurred between December 12th and December 15th, resulting in a myriad of charges, including soliciting for prostitution, soliciting another to commit a lewd act, deriving proceeds from prostitution and aiding/abetting prostitution.

Undercover detectives posted ads on various websites in an effort to arrest 24 men or “Johns,” as well as others contributing to the illegal industry.

WFLA reports that 66 percent of those arrested have criminal pasts, totaling over 395 crimes committed.

Polk Country Sheriff Grady Judd told WFLA, “Prostitution is not a victimless crime… We arrested a 16-year-old girl from Orlando on Saturday for prostitution. She was driven to our undercover location by a 20-year-old man. The teen is clearly a victim of sex trafficking.”

Judd went on to inform WFLA that the man responsible for driving the teenage victim was arrested and the police force will continue to do everything they can to get her help, as well as track down those involved in the trafficking.

Saving Child Prostitutes

FILE – In this Nov. 4, 2009 file photo, police talk to two young women before arresting them for prostitution in Dallas. The young woman second from left turned out to be underage at the time of her arrest. In a city known as a national hotbed for prostitution, a special Dallas police unit is trying new approaches to identify, reach and save underage girls being lured into the street life. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

It is hardly a victimless crime, and one the world has seen play out time and time again. A similar investigation in Canada resulted in the rescue of 386 children — and subsequently 348 arrests — of  those who were involved in child pornography.

As devastating as these reports seem, they are also in some ways victorious.

Zach Hiner, a spokesperson for Prevent Child Abuse America, said, “When people are actively aware of what’s going on in the world around them, and more importantly, learn more about what they can do to help change or improve the world, great things will happen.”

The more people hear about sex trafficking, child pornography and prostitution crimes, it motivates them into a place of action. In many ways, that motivation stems from news reports like the one following Florida’s recent crackdown.

Hiner explains, “By reporting on events in a way that makes everyone realize how close we are to each other, but also how a small bit of time and energy can go a very long way, the media can help us achieve our goal of creating a society which gives children and families the best chance to succeed.”

 

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Europe’s Biggest Brothel: It Will Cost €4.5m, Will Boast 90 Prostitutes

Europe’s biggest brothel: it will cost €4.5m and will boast 90 prostitutes

TONY PATERSON 

The German town of Saarbrücken was once renowned for its fine Moselle wines, first-class cuisine and an easy going un-Teutonic way  of life.

Yet the border city’s fame as a laid-back gourmet paradise is now fast being overtaken by a new and unsavoury reputation as Europe’s prostitution capital.

The reasons are self-explanatory: the city has 170,000 residents and a population of over 1,000 call girls. The numbers grew after 2007 when Bulgaria and Romania gained EU membership. Since then there has been a steady influx of women plying the sex trade, often to escape poverty at home.

Early next year their numbers will swell even further with the opening of a new €4.5m (£3.8m) 6,000sq-metre “mega brothel” in Saarbrücken’s Burbach district. It will employ 90 full-time prostitutes and be run by a permanent staff of 45. The establishment has been described as one of the largest brothels in Europe.

Local authorities bemoan the fact that they have virtually no power to halt the expansion of the city’s already booming sex industry: “In Saarbrücken it is easier to open a brothel than a chip shop,” Charlotte Britz, the city’s Social Democratic Party mayor, said. “Prostitution has assumed unbearable proportions here.”

It is not difficult to understand the Mayor’s concerns. From her office, Ms Britz has a grandstand view of the two brothels that stand directly opposite Saarbrücken’s town hall. “The current situation is bad for the city’s image,”  she said.

Two factors have combined to create Saarbrücken’s seemingly unstoppable sex trade boom.

The first is what was once hailed as an “enlightened” German government decision to liberalise what were considered to be outdated and repressive laws governing prostitution and the sex trade. Back in 2001, under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Germany’s governing Social Democrat-Green coalition tried to make prostitution a job like any other by passing laws that  gave call girls full rights to health insurance, pensions and other benefits provided they paid the requisite taxes.

While exploiting prostitutes remained criminal, employing them or providing sex workers with a place to ply their trade was declared legal. The change in the law was an attempt to encourage responsible, law-abiding brothel owners, who, it was assumed, would eventually drive pimps from the market and end the exploitation of sex workers.

The second factor that has contributed to the boom in the sex trade is the city’s proximity to France, where the legality of prostitution is a grey area. In France, prostitution is illegal in principle, but it is not illegal to be a prostitute. It is illegal to run a brothel or to be a pimp or to solicit even “passively” in public, but it is not illegal to sell your body – or “buy” someone else’s. And this week, France passed a controversial bill meaning anyone caught paying for sex will be fined a €1,500 for a first offence.

Saarbrücken, a mere hop over the German border from the French cities of Strassbourg, Nancy and Metz, is already flooded with French male sex tourists at weekends and the new fine seems destined to boost trade even further. The Stuttgart concern Paradise Island Entertainment, which is behind the city’s new mega-brothel project, said it chose the city precisely because of its proximity to France. But Saarbrücken is simply an extreme example of what has occurred in most large German cities since the liberalisation laws of 2001. The country has become a magnet for sex tourism, with an estimated 400,000 prostitutes catering for a million men each day.

Statistics suggest that the aim to make prostitution a job like any other has backfired badly. Just 44 prostitutes are reported to have registered for welfare benefits so far and critics say that well-meaning legislation has helped, rather than discouraged, pimps.

Most health-insurance companies refuse to accept prostitutes as customers at reasonable rates because of what they say are the inherent risks involved. Taxes on brothels are usually passed on to the call girls who work in them, while uncontrolled street prostitution involving new arrivals from Eastern Europe continues to thrive.

Germany’s future “grand coalition” government this week signalled that it would rein in some aspects of the 2001 laws in an attempt to get a grip on the problem. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and their prospective Social Democrat partners said they would ban so-called  “flat-rate” sex offered by some brothels and provide better protection for victims of enforced prostitution.

However, critics have complained that such proposals do not go nearly far enough. In Saarbrucken, insiders in city’s red light scene say the measures would make “absolutely no difference” to the city’s booming sex trade.

The backlash against Germany’s prostitution explosion is being driven by the country’s renowned 1960s’ feminist activist Alice Schwarzer.  She argues that prostitution has become a form of modern slavery.

IN NUMBERS

400,000: Estimated number of prostitutes working in Germany

44: Number of German sex workers covered by social insurance

1,000: Estimated number of prostitutes in Saarbrucken

€4.5m: Cost of  new “mega-brothel” in Saarbrucken

 

Child Sex Shame of Brazil: Prostitute, 14, Used by Workers at England World Cup Venue

Yards from a new £200m stadium, Poliana sells her body to dozens of construction workers in their lunch break for just £2.60 a time

Exploited: Poliana, 14, is one of the oldest

Sitting on a bed covered in cuddly toys, her long hair tied with a pink scrunchie, 14-year-old Poliana looks like any innocent young teenager.

But instead she is part of a sickening child prostitution scandal that heaps shame on World Cup hosts Brazil.

In this bedroom, only yards from a new £200 million stadium where England will play in next summer’s finals, Poliana sells her body to dozens of construction workers in their lunch break every day for just £2.60 a time.

And she is not alone.

A Sunday Mirror investigation reveals how hundreds of poverty stricken children, some aged just ELEVEN, are being sold to workers building Sao Paulo’s showcase World Cup ground.

Yet they are feared to be just the start of a tidal wave of child prostitutes run by organised crime from drugs gangs and child sex traffickers to the Russian mafia. And they will swamp here and other stadiums in Brazil, luring lucrative foreign fans, when the tournament kicks off in June.

Already there are sinister reports of buses full of children like Poliana arriving in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city with 11.3 million people, from poor parts of the country after being snatched by traffickers.

The city’s worried justice secretary, Eloisa de Sousa Arruda, told us of cases of underage girls arriving through its international airport from the Congo and Somalia, supposedly financed by the Russian mafia.

And a Sao Paulo council inquiry into child prostitution, seen by the Sunday Mirror before publication, shows the crime-ridden city is powerless to stop them – because there is “no political will” to do so.

Every day, the grotesque trade goes on in broad daylight in roads near the stadium in the poor district of Itaquera – in full view of security guards and regular police patrols.

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The girls sometimes take clients back to local run-down sex hotels, or work from their own bedrooms in shacks in a local squalid ‘favela’ or shanty town.

Residents of Favela da Paz, a slum in the shadow of the stadium, claim many of the girls are forced into prostitution by gangs.

We found Poliana after being led to her bedroom by other girls plying their trade close to the stadium’s perimeter fence.

She said she normally arranges to meet clients in a local sex motel, the pink-painted Hotel Palace, even though Brazilian law bans minors from entering such vice dens. “The owners know me, they always let me in,” she said.

Poliana said most of her trade comes from the 300 workers building Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians. Two weeks ago she discovered she is pregnant.

The youngster told us how she fell headlong into the world of prostitution only three months ago. She said: “It was the night my mother died. I’d been tempted to do prostitution before – some of my friends were doing it and there were people wanting me to do it.

“But when she died I just lost it. I went out on the streets that night. I didn’t know how I would find money to eat or pay the rent. It didn’t take long to find people wanting to pay. There were lots of men from the stadium turning up looking for sex.”

Poliana said she knows many other underage girls from poor communities around the stadium who sell their bodies to stadium workers employed by Odebrecht Infrastructure.

She said: “There are many who are younger than me, 11, 12. I’m often the oldest girl on the road. When the World Cup begins there will be many more girls my age and younger. Everyone thinks they can make a lot of money from the foreigners coming here.”

FIFA World Cup - Sao Paulo Stadium/City Views

Thousands of England fans will be in Sao Paulo for the team’s second group game on June 19 against Uruguay. Another girl, 16-year-old Thais, left a man waiting inside a garage where she sometimes takes clients so she could speak to us.

A crack addict, Thais said she charges between 10 and 15 Reals – £2.60 to £4 – and has sex with up to 15 men a day.

“Nearly all my clients are from the works,” she said. “They always pay up, but they don’t always treat me well.

“But what can I do? My parents are dead, I need money. If it were not for the men at the stadium, I don’t know what I’d do. Tomorrow one of them has booked a whole day in the hotel – it will be a good day’s work for me.”

Thais also said she is “looking forward” to earning more during the World Cup. She said: “I’m going to charge the foreigners 50 Reals (£13) a time. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of work from the football fans.”

The city council’s inquiry into rocketing child prostitution paints a disturbing picture. A public hotline to report cases has “not stopped ringing” since it was set up nine months ago, said councillor Laercio Benko, the inquiry’s president. Reports include allegations children are being forcibly recruited into the sex trade by drugs gangsters.

The inquiry, due to publish its findings next month, also heard how pimps had been approaching men working at the stadium, offering them “very young girls” for sale. Cllr Benko said he fears the city could become a “child prostitution hub” before the big kick-off.

He said: “Sao Paulo is not organised to prevent this type of child sexual exploitation, not right now and much less during big events like the 2014 World Cup. What we are hearing are very serious ­allegations which demand responses, but I’m afraid there’s a lack of political will to bring it to an end.”

The nightmare is repeated across Brazil. In a recent survey of 300 workers on World Cup projects, 57 per cent said they knew of underage prostitution close to the sites. Astonishingly, a quarter of the men interviewed admitted they had paid for sex with children on one or more occasions.

An anti-trafficking expert told us: “For trafficking gangs the World Cup represents an unprecedented opportunity to make money. Foreign fans need to be aware of this – and that sex with a minor in Brazil carries up to 10 years’ jail.”

Back in the Favela da Paz, as building workers follow children into squalid shanty homes, dad-of-four Anderson Fonseca, 34, told us: “Since the work on the stadium started, it’s got out of control. Every day you see more girls, and much younger girls.”

Two weeks ago the Arena Corinthians raised fears of Brazil’s readiness to host the World Cup after a huge crane collapsed onto the structure, killing two workers.

But Sao Paulo’s chilling child prostitution ­explosion reveals even deeper worries about the country’s suitability to run the tournament.

A statement from construction firm Odebrecht Infrastructure said on Friday it “has not been ­notified” of child abuse allegations and is “unaware of any information about them.”

Child Sex Shame of Brazil: Prostitute, 14, Used by Workers at England World Cup Venue

Saving Bobbi: Struggling to Find a Way Forward (Part 4)

Bobbi Larson’s dad, Scott Larson, greeted her with a big hug after she received her high school diploma. The summer after graduation would prove a rollercoaster of progress and setbacks as she worked at recovering from trafficking.

Pam Louwagie

Bobbi Larson stood before the mirror in her small bedroom, white gown draped over her shoulders, carefully balancing a mortarboard cap atop her perfectly straightened hair.

“Oh gosh,” she said, a smile spreading wide across her face. “I’m gonna graduate.”

Her dad, Scott Larson, teared up when she walked into the living room. Commencement would begin in a little over an hour in the high school gymnasium that crisp May evening. He gushed with pride — and relief — that his little girl had made it.

It was a milestone normally taken for granted in Two Harbors. But with Bobbi’s addiction struggles, cycles in treatment programs and stints on the run, Scott and his wife, Deanna, weren’t assuming anything.

“I just never thought this day was going to come,” Scott said, shaking his head as he watched her rush around getting ready.

Once she clutched that diploma, Scott realized, he would have to let go. But even though she was 18, he knew he and Deanna would always be her parents in the truest sense of the word.

They would continue to worry about her. They would prod her to succeed. They would watch her make mistakes and try to guide her toward better decisions.

At the ceremony, Principal Brett Archer told the graduates that their futures were in their own hands.

“What path you take from here is all up to you,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to leave unhealthy habits and relationships behind.”

The high school choir sang “A Parting Blessing,” the seniors marched across the stage one by one, then the new graduates tossed their caps and glittering confetti into the air.

After the ceremony, Bobbi turned in her gown and said goodbye to her favorite teachers. Then she climbed into her mom’s black Chevy with a friend she had met at a treatment center who had cheered for Bobbi from the audience.

Bobbi’s foot heavy on the gas pedal, they zoomed past tall pines, away from the school, the moonlight shimmering on Lake Superior behind them.

She had aimed herself in a positive direction. She had been staying sober and decided against going to a senior party after commencement, avoiding any temptation of alcohol or drugs. The dollar sign tattoo on her chest had been covered by a colorful, curlicued butterfly with the word “strength” inscribed below it, a sign of transformation to herself and the rest of the world. In about a month, she would start cosmetology school in Duluth.

A promising life lay ahead, if she could just hang on to it.

In the car, the stereo blasted Bobbi’s favorite hip hop song, “Neva End,” by Future.

“We don’t wanna neva end … It’s like our life has just began.”

Bobbi Larson, left, horsed around after lunch with a friend she moved in with in Duluth after graduation. She soon moved back to Two Harbors to live with her parents again.

Summer of struggle

But the psychological effects of sex trafficking don’t end easily. The summer and fall after graduation would prove a rollercoaster of sobriety and relapses into drugs, hopefulness and despair, struggle and denial.

Child sex-trafficking victims can suffer a range of serious physical and psychological damage, including sexually transmitted diseases, malnutrition, low self-esteem, depression and drug addiction. Victims grow to realize the life that pimps sold them as glamorous was all a facade and they feel a stigma, said Alexis Kennedy, a forensic psychologist and criminal justice professor at the University of Nevada.

Counselors warned Bobbi it could take years to understand and move on from what she had been through. She didn’t want to believe that.

In early June, Bobbi announced she was moving into a Duluth rental house where her friend lived with an aunt who had small children. Scott helped load her things and moved her bed. When he drove up to the front door, he grew wary of the run-down neighborhood. The duplex was dilapidated, with mattresses propped against an outside wall and window blinds bent in all directions. But Bobbi insisted it would work; she would be closer to cosmetology school and she could handle living on her own.

Bobbi and her friend looked for work cleaning hotel rooms, filling out applications at waterfront inns for tourists along Canal Park as well as chains up the hill near the mall. But they got no nibbles.

They started hanging out with friends of friends, including a 25-year-old man who Bobbi started to date.

As the days turned into weeks, Bobbi and her friend stayed awake partying into the early morning and then sleeping in late.

“I don’t really care what people think of me,” Bobbi often proclaimed.

But she took pains to look good, carefully picking out clothing, brushing on eye shadow worthy of a magazine cover, and choosing rhinestone-embedded purses, flip-flops and cellphone covers.

Scott and Deanna were more frustrated than they had ever been. Normally, their daughter would at least speak civilly with them. Now she often showed an ornery streak, reacting with defiance to their questions.

They had never seen her quite so short-tempered.

Bobbi was using meth again.

All the money tucked into congratulatory greeting cards at her graduation party — about $1,000 – had gone up in smoke.

Bobbi was also charged with shoplifting at a Wal-Mart in Hermantown, her first adult infraction. Waiting in the hallway of the old courthouse in Duluth for her case to be called, she stretched chewing gum from her mouth. She agreed to plead guilty to a petty misdemeanor and pay a $185 fine in installments of $25 a month. “I just wanted it done with,” she explained afterward.

To Scott and Deanna’s relief, Bobbi soon decided to move back home to Two Harbors, tired of arguing with her friend.

She also told her parents she wanted to concentrate on cosmetology school. She would build a future out of all the hours she and her friends had spent in front of mirrors, styling their hair and brushing on makeup.

On her first day, she arrived at the school in Duluth wearing a spotted animal-print top, her long hair colored a deep chestnut.

In the first couple of weeks, instructors taught her how to properly shampoo hair, give a perm to a mannequin, and use her fingers to create a flapper-style wave.

“I never thought I’d say this, but I love it,” she announced at the end of June, just days after starting. “I’m not the type of person to love school.”

Bobbi Larson took a break along Lake Superior in Two Harbors, Minn. It was once the spot where she and her friends would go to hang out during high school.

Confronting her demons

Every single day, Bobbi fights her compulsion to get high.

Everything that happened to her on the run — living in filth, stealing food, having sex with strangers – weighs heavily on her mind. She tries not to think about it. She doesn’t like to talk about it. When she does, she speaks without emotion, reciting the cold reality of what she went through.

On a visit to the Twin Cities at the end of June, Bobbi had a conversation with a program manager from Breaking Free, the St. Paul nonprofit that helps victims escape and recover from sex trafficking.

Besides helping victims reconsider their pasts, Breaking Free houses some women and girls, helps them find chemical dependency and mental health treatment, and provides them with legal help and job training.

Drug use was her biggest struggle, Bobbi told the program manager, Joy Friedman, who is also a sex-trafficking survivor.

Bobbi explained that she used drugs to escape from herself so she wouldn’t have to face the reality of her past.

Joy Friedman, left, program manager at Breaking Free, met with Bobbi in a Minneapolis park to talk about services her organization provides to sex-trafficking survivors.

“That’s nine times out of 10 what all of us do, we get high to run away from ourselves,” Friedman empathized. “It’s safe to say it’s not fixing the problem that you’re trying to get solved, correct?”

The drugs provided an escape route for about 12 hours, Bobbi said. Then she would come out of her high angry.

The two talked about trying to face their demons. Changing her life will take work, Friedman told Bobbi.

“I definitely, I want a different life, you know?” Bobbi said.

“Nobody can do this but you,” Friedman said. “It’s hard, but look what you were just in. That’s hard … this is just work.”

Counselors and therapists know the trauma of sex-trafficking haunts victims for years.

The road to healing often requires physically getting out of the environment that they have been living in, severing unhealthy friendships and finding new, positive ones.

“It’s a slow road oftentimes,” said Nikki Beasley, Breaking Free’s director of programs.

Victims think their bodies are damaged. They carry guilt and shame. Counselors help female victims learn to think about themselves differently, Beasley said.

“The brainwashing and the degradation that happens, I don’t know that anyone could ever really understand it … being daily told that you’re not worth it, that nobody will love you,” she said. “A lot of the work we’re doing is re-wiring that and giving them different messages that they, in time, believe.”

Bobbi spent countless hours with therapists, trying to get to the bottom of how her life turned out the way it did, and how she could turn it around.

Her feelings of abandonment by her birth parents came up repeatedly. “I believe I started because I wanted love from a man,” she said. “Yeah, I have a dad in my life but it’s not my biological father.” Her birth mother and father had set her up on a bad course, she said, and that made her angry. But she recognized that she had choices to make, too.

Facing her problems — her decisions, her past and her future — was exhausting.

“I feel like I’m ruined,” she said.

It was much easier to just escape.

Bobbi happily displayed a tattoo of a butterfly and the word “Strength” on her chest. The tattoo covers a previous tattoo of a dollar sign.

Some parental tough love

Using her parents’ car over the Fourth of July weekend to drive to Duluth, she just kept going and ended up at a club in downtown Minneapolis.

But this time when things started to feel dangerous, she dialed Sgt. Grant Snyder’s cellphone. He sent a squad car, but also warned that police wouldn’t have the resources to keep coming to her rescue.

The episode was the last straw for Scott and Deanna. Bobbi needed to kick her drug habit, they told her. She needed treatment.

First, Scott confirmed with his insurance company that Bobbi would be covered for a monthlong stay in a Hazelden youth facility in the Twin Cities, widely regarded as one of the premiere treatment programs in the country.

Then they steeled themselves to deliver a tough message of parental love.

They told Bobbi this was her last, best chance to get her life together. Their future support would depend on her staying sober, they said. They couldn’t continue to live with her spiraling out of control.

Sentencing the pimps

Broderick Boshay “E” Robinson, 39
Plea: Guilty, promoting prostitution. He is appealing case. Sentence: 7½ years.

Meranda Lynn Warborg, 30
Plea: Guilty, sextrafficking of a minor.Sentence: Five years of probation, including one year in workhouse. If probation completed, felony converts to misdemeanor.

Jeffrey John “Red” Latawiec, 30
Plea: Guilty, promoting prostitution, soliciting prostitution.
Sentence: 6 years.

Robert Virgil “Trap” Love, 33
Plea: Guilty, soliciting prostitution.
Sentence: 10 years, 10 months in prison, suspended for 10 years of probation, including 180 days in workhouse.

While Bobbi stayed sequestered inside Hazelden for most of August, the last of four defendants charged with trafficking her pleaded guilty.

Bobbi learned she would not have to testify against her sex traffickers in court.

Broderick Robinson had pleaded first, then Meranda Warborg, Robert Love and, finally, Jeffrey Latawiec.

At Latawiec’s sentencing inside a Hennepin County courtroom in August, Scott Larson sat down at the prosecution table, tears sometimes flowing from his eyes. Slowly, he told the judge how sex trafficking had hurt Bobbi and his family.

“The agony that we’ve felt as parents over the last 13 months has been tremendous,” he told Judge Daniel Mabley.

“Frequently, we are awakened in the middle of the night with our daughter having flashbacks,” he said. Bobbi describes dreaming of forced sex or of someone holding a gun to her head.

Bobbi used to enjoy life, Scott told the judge, but that had changed. She had been delivered a life sentence of trauma.

“She’s seldom happy today,” he said. “It’s very difficult for her to communicate without … drastic mood changes and anger.” Scott argued that Latawiec deserved a lengthy sentence.

Latawiec publicly apologized to Scott and the Larson family, saying he has two daughters of his own and he made “stupid decisions.”

He said he planned to change his life and hoped Bobbi would be able to recover.

“I feel bad for her,” he said. “I hope that she can get past stuff that happened to her.”

In the end, Mabley sentenced Latawiec to six years in prison. Latawiec had accepted responsibility for his crime and demonstrated remorse, Mabley noted, adding that the guilty plea saved Bobbi the “considerable trauma and embarrassment” of testifying.

Robinson received a sentence of 7½ years in prison. Warborg was sentenced to five years of probation, including a year in the Hennepin County workhouse. If she completes probation, her felony will convert to a misdemeanor. Love was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison, suspended for 10 years of probation, including 180 days in the workhouse.

Careful steps forward

After Hazelden, Bobbi returned to Two Harbors to live with her parents.

They were doing their best to keep her on the right path as she attended outpatient treatment and talked with the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) in Duluth. The Larsons remained hopeful, but cautious.

“I’m not going to take this more than one day at a time,” Scott said. “Anytime you don’t see her and she’s out of your hands, you worry.”

Bobbi would begin healing at home, among family who love her enough to worry, to stay up nights, to confront her, to stick with her through the very worst. Constant as the boulders lining Lake Superior, pelted by wind and waves.

On a brisk September evening, the Larsons gathered, as they often do, for Sunday dinner. Deanna cooked ribs, salmon and baby red potatoes.

As the sun set, Bobbi played with her nephews in the yard and threw rocks for the family’s bounding springer spaniel, Belle.

She wore no makeup and her hair was tied up and tousled. She smiled brightly.

“I know I’m not going to ever be perfect,” Bobbi said, but she was “taking the steps so I don’t get back in that life.”

For that moment, she was sober, happy and relaxed.

It was fragile, but it was a start.

Go to Part 1: A teen’s sex trafficking ordeal

Go to Part 2: Lured by drugs, used by pimps

Go to Part 3: One cop’s determination

Go to Part 4: Struggling to Find a Way Forward

 

Saving Bobbi: One Cop’s Determination (Part 3)

Minneapolis police Sgt. Grant Snyder peered through a hotel room window during a stakeout on an alleged sex-trafficking case.

Pam Louwagie

Saving Bobbi: One Cop’s Determination

Sgt. Grant Snyder scrolled through Internet ads and Facebook pages in late July 2012, searching for any sign of recent activity by 17-year-old runaway Bobbi Larson and her friend.

The digital age has made it easier for sex traffickers to hide their business, but it also has handed police new tools. Snyder tried a range of digital techniques.

He tapped away at the laptop on his desk in the Crimes Against Children Unit of the Minneapolis Police Department, searching for leads. Sometimes he sat in his unmarked car between calls on other cases, using a tracking app on his iPhone to hunt for cellphones of suspected victims and traffickers.

In Bobbi’s case, the big break came the morning of July 28, when a number associated with Bobbi’s friend was discovered in a Backpage.com ad. He tracked the cellphone to a house on Oliver Avenue in north Minneapolis.

As Snyder pulled up and recognized Meranda Warborg in the back yard, he felt even more certain that the girls he had been looking for were sex-trafficking victims. Warborg had been connected to, but was not charged, in one of his previous cases.

“We’re looking for two girls,” Snyder remembers telling Warborg as he approached her.

She nodded toward the back door. “Inside,” she said.

There he found the girls in a back bedroom of the house. Beneath a veneer of makeup and lingerie, Snyder said, they looked gaunt, dazed and tired.

As he walked them out of the house and into squad cars, Snyder was already planning how he could chip away at the defensiveness they had developed to survive on the streets.

Bobbi Larson enthusiastically greeted Sgt. Grant Snyder as they met for coffee near downtown Minneapolis.

A story spills out

Snyder led Bobbi through Minneapolis City Hall, a granite marvel of castle-like architecture, and into the first floor police station.

He found an interview room where he could sequester her from distractions — a windowless cubbyhole the size of a large closet. He asked her to sit down at a small round table and prepared to disarm her with an approach honed over years of interviews with girls caught in similar circumstances.

She wasn’t going to get in trouble, Snyder told her calmly. He was concerned about her. She didn’t have to live that life if she didn’t want to. Could he help her get away from it?

Bobbi was in rough shape, descending from her meth high. She kept putting her head down on the table, Snyder recalled, and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.

“My parents told me all I hang around are bad influences on me, and now that’s what I turned out to be,” she sobbed on a digital recording of the conversation.

“You know, I’ve dealt with a lot of young ladies…. I’m gonna tell ya: People don’t walk down this road for no reason,” Snyder told her. “You don’t just walk into the life and say ‘You know what? I want to be treated like shit, I want people to abuse me.’ You don’t walk into that.”

Bobbi told him the story of what had happened after she persuaded a friend to run from their treatment program in Eau Claire. How she ended up turning tricks and giving money to a man she thought loved her. How she ended up at the house in north Minneapolis.

It was clear to Snyder that Bobbi felt ashamed as she fought back her tears. She knew she was doing illegal things, she said. She understood that cops might not look kindly upon her.

“I’m not doing anything right in this situation,” she said.

Again and again, Snyder interrupted their conversation to remind her that she was a victim.

“Any guy that allows a young lady like yourself to be victimized like that … that speaks of their character. You understand that, right?” he told her. “The guys that paid you, they’re rapists. They’re not your friends. They’re not your customers. They’re rapists. You’re a 17- year-old girl. K? That’s unconscionable.”

Bobbi isn’t sure even now why her story came tumbling out to Snyder that day. Maybe it was because he didn’t look like a cop. Maybe it was because he spoke with concern in his voice, not authority. For some reason, she liked him and she felt he was looking out for her.

Most of the hundreds of girls he had interviewed over the years had been battered or abused at some point in their lives — hurt so badly that they felt worthless and were vulnerable to the sex trade. He started by assuming that was true for Bobbi, too.

“What I want you to understand is that all this stuff isn’t your fault, K? … This is why a guy shouldn’t hire women for prostitution, because you come from an abusive background, don’t ya?” he asked.

Bobbi paused. “I’ve never gotten abused by family,” she offered.

“Doesn’t matter,” Snyder said. “Were you abused by anyone?

Bobbi stammered. She wouldn’t go there.

“I mean, I don’t know,” she said. “Not really. I mean I’ve been in serious situations, but never really like, I don’t know.”

Bobbi quickly cut off Snyder’s line of questioning by saying she had to use the bathroom.

Bobbi Larson left her parents’ home on her way to high school graduation in Two Harbors, Minn. Sgt. Grant Snyder thought “she sounded like a kid that had a new chance.”

It had taken years before she admitted to her parents during treatment that before it all started, when she was just 14, two older boys had assaulted her. But she didn’t tell Snyder about it that day.

After the initial interview, Snyder didn’t know what to do with Bobbi. She was a sex-trafficking victim, so he didn’t want to punish her by putting her in a detention facility. But he also knew she was a runaway risk. Only two beds were dedicated for juveniles rescued from sex trafficking throughout the state — hosted by the nonprofit group Breaking Free in St. Paul.

Breaking Free differs from traditional shelters and chemical dependency programs because it focuses directly on sex-trafficking victims. Some women who walk in the door are addicted to the fast lifestyle, drugs and quick money that selling sex brings. Most have experienced trauma or violence along the way, but have trouble seeing themselves as exploited by pimps acting like boyfriends. Breaking Free helps them out of that lifestyle and offers group therapy with others who have had similar experiences.

Bobbi might want what Breaking Free offered someday, Snyder knew. But it was not a locked facility and with Bobbi’s history of running away, it was too early to take her there. He consulted an attorney in the county’s child protection office, then decided to take Bobbi a few blocks away to detox at Hennepin County Medical Center that night, where she could get a medical check. Later, authorities moved her to a cell at the juvenile detention center next door, a place where she could be kept safe.

When Snyder sat down with Bobbi a few days later to interview her again, he saw something hopeful: “She sounded like a kid that had a new chance.”

Bobbi told Snyder she wouldn’t run away again. But Snyder had worked with a lot of troubled kids over the years, and he knew it probably wouldn’t be that simple. Not with her drug addiction, her capacity to slip out of treatment programs, the way she taxed the patience of adults who tried to help her.

Snyder looked Bobbi in the eye and guaranteed that if she ran again, he would find her.

Bobbi says she regrets the tattoo that marks her right eye, which was done after she met some gang members while living as a runaway.

Back to the streets

At the end of July, Snyder took Bobbi on a two-hour drive to the PORT Group Home in Brainerd, where girls are placed in a building with a spacious back yard and views of the Mississippi River.

It’s a structured environment offering such things as behavior modification, respite care and counseling. Although it’s not a locked facility, Snyder and her parents, Scott and Deanna Larson, thought she would be safe there for the time being.

Her stay didn’t last long. She left almost immediately. Although Bobbi had fled “E” in Minneapolis, she was still pining for this man who had said he cared about her. She called him to come and get her, telling him to phone the group home posing as her father.

When he called, group home workers recognized it wasn’t her father’s voice and called Deanna. She notified Snyder.

Authorities intercepted E on his way north, before he could get to Bobbi. But by the time they made it to Brainerd, Bobbi had walked out the door and onto the streets on her own, looking for a fix.

Meth gives users a quick surge of euphoria that can last for hours, making it one of the most highly addictive amphetamines, said David Ferguson, professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Minnesota. It alters brain chemistry so that users begin to feel good about bad situations. But it takes higher and higher doses to get to that same high again.

Bobbi met a woman who was being temporarily housed at a local hotel and stayed with her for a few days, then later in an apartment. They smoked meth together. After about a week, Bobbi called another man she had met in the Twin Cities to come and get her.

She ended up working for him, too, until he gave her a bloody lip and she left.

Once again, Bobbi was drifting from one man to another, alone this time, desperate for drugs and vulnerable to feigned affection.

A downward spiral

Bobbi stood at a bus stop in mid-August 2012 with some new-found male friends in North Minneapolis.

A black Jeep pulled up, and once again Bobbi climbed into a stranger’s car. The driver introduced himself as “Trap.” A tall, thin man in the passenger’s seat was called “Red.” Bobbi would later describe what happened next:

The three arrived at a house on 22nd Ave. N., decorated in cheer and innocence. Aqua gingerbread trim framed the windows. Children’s toys were strewn in the yard. A little white picket fence sectioned off some scrubby brush.

It was Red’s mother’s house, they told Bobbi, but she was out of town. Much of what happened over her two or three days there is a blur, Bobbi admits.

The same progression of drugs, Backpage.com and sex trafficking began to play out in the little house. But Red and Trap were demanding and physically violent, Bobbi told police. They assaulted her, forcing her to do things that made her throw up. She would one day tell police that after that particularly brutal session with the two men, she kicked them off of her and ran to the bathroom. She turned on the shower and dropped to her knees, lingering under the stream of water.

“Well, she can take it. We’ve just gotta work on it a little bit,” she recalled hearing one of the men say to the other later that night.

Just two blocks away, parents pushed toddlers on swings at a playground and children painted pictures and played games at a Boys & Girls Club, oblivious to what was happening to Bobbi nearby. She said about 10 men arrived at the little house and took turns with her. The money would go to Red and Trap.

“I just kind of gave up,” Bobbi recalled.

Planning to try to leave the house, she started packing up her things when Trap and Red confronted her, she told police.

She recounted their heated, dangerous exchange in her police interview:

“What do you think you’re doing? You still gotta make money,” Red and Trap said while pushing her to the bed.

“Man, get the [expletive] out of my face,” she yelled back.

“What’s with the attitude? No bitch is supposed to have an attitude towards us.”

“What do you expect, me getting pushed around … being with old, old men and getting money for it and then having to give it all to you guys. What do you expect, me to not have an attitude or whatever?”

Trap left the room and came back with a handgun and pointed it at her, she told police:

“Whoa, what the [expletive] do you think you’re doing?” she asked, calming her voice. “I’ll give you no attitude, but I don’t understand why you just had to pull a gun on me.”

Red grabbed a gun from his waistband.

“You better be making $500 in the next couple hours,” he told her, adding “This is bullshit. I don’t understand why you’re packing.”

With the men still in the room, she used Red’s phone to text a previous trick an urgent message: This is an emergency. You need to come pick me up NOW.

A man came to get her and took her to a hotel in Brooklyn Center.

Bobbi didn’t try to go home to her parents, knowing they would be upset that she had run away and would put her right back in treatment. She couldn’t stand the thought of going back there, even though she understood they were doing what they thought was best.

She started surviving the only way she knew, by posting an ad on Backpage.com.

Sgt. Grant Snyder photographed parking lot activity from a hotel room during a sex-trafficking stakeout.

Arresting the pimps

In mid-August, inside Grant Snyder’s suburban home, his wife was sitting in the living room scrolling through ads on Backpage.com on her laptop, engrossed by the case her husband was working on. She spotted Bobbi’s advertisement.

Snyder called the number and did his best to imitate a Texas accent, hoping Bobbi wouldn’t recognize his voice. She didn’t, and invited the man she thought was in town on business to the hotel.

Police showed up instead.

Eventually, they arrested Trap, 33, whose real name is Robert Virgil Love, and Red, 30, whose name is Jeffrey John Latawiec.

Latawiec told police that Bobbi belonged to Love because Love had picked her up in the Jeep on the corner in north Minneapolis. He said Love would “go first” in having sex with Bobbi because she was his girl. Latawiec acknowledged in the police interview that he got paid after Bobbi turned tricks. “Of course,” he told police. “I mean, you ain’t gonna be in my house doing that shit” without paying for it, he said.

In a telephone interview from the state prison in St. Cloud, Latawiec said he and Love never acted as pimps. Sex with Bobbi was consensual, he said, and they never pulled guns on her. Latawiec said he didn’t use drugs with her. He said only one or two patrons came to the house, she was there only about a day and when he learned Bobbi was turning tricks he demanded she leave. She paid him what she thought she owed him for food and shelter, he said. Love and Warborg declined to take calls to the Hennepin County workhouse seeking comment for this story.

The cases of Robinson, Warborg, Latawiec and Love began to weave through the Hennepin County court system, a long process that would unfold from the summer of 2012 through autumn of 2013.

In recent years, the approach of prosecutors toward traffickers has intensified, said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. “I think we’re more aggressive in the charging. I think we’re a little bit more aggressive in what we’re asking for in terms of sentences,” he said. “I think we’re more aware of how exploitive this is.”

As the legal process wore on, Snyder and others did their best to wrest Bobbi from the grip of addiction and life on the streets.

All the while, the powerful coalition that had formed in Minnesota to fight sex trafficking was working to make sure this damaging, dirty world was brought sharply into public consciousness.

Jeffrey John “Red” Latawiec, 30
Plea: Guilty, promoting prostitution, soliciting prostitution.
Sentence: 6 years.

Robert Virgil “Trap” Love, 33
Plea: Guilty, soliciting prostitution.
Sentence: 10 years, 10 months in prison, suspended for 10 years of probation, including 180 days in workhouse.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi grew more creative in his efforts to overhaul prosecution of pimps and treatment of girls who were trafficked, including a proposal to file civil no-contact orders against alleged perpetrators when authorities needed more time to build cases.

Groups around the state that had been working against child sex trafficking began to close ranks.

Sisters in the Order of St. Francis in Rochester, wielding PowerPoint presentations, held seminars featuring a former trafficking victim. They drew crowds at local libraries and community colleges, where they aimed to make people aware that sex trafficking was going on locally and raise money to get the word out.

The Minnesota Trucking Association had signed on to the national “Truckers Against Trafficking” campaign, and drivers were being taught how to spot and help the women they once called “lot lizards” — those who roamed truck stops along the interstate highway corridors, knocking on the doors of big-rig cabs offering sex for money.

Momentum for change in Minnesota was building.

Decked out in a black suit coat and tie, Snyder addressed advocates fighting trafficking last May in a meeting room at the Crowne Plaza hotel in downtown St. Paul.

He told the harrowing story of an underage sex-trafficking victim from northern Minnesota identified as “Bobbi.”

“What Bobbi’s story illustrates is the incredible depth of our failings as law enforcement,” Snyder said. “Bobbi was a kid that had all of the vulnerabilities up front.”

After police pulled Bobbi from the streets of Minneapolis, he explained, “we got her into what at that time appeared to be our best alternative, and that was a treatment program up in northern Minnesota. That didn’t work for Bobbi and she escaped from there and eventually ended up back on the streets where we had to rescue her again. This is the backdrop against which we’ve had to learn to do our job better.”

More than 700 advocates showed up during the weekend conference put on by Breaking Free. They were trying to convince the Minnesota Legislature to put more money toward combatting sex trafficking and helping victims. Later that month they succeeded, when lawmakers agreed to spend $2.8 million — the largest state investment in the country.

The money will add 12 to 14 beds for sex-trafficked children in safe facilities with counselors who understand their special trauma.

The Legislature also changed state law so that any prostituted person under the age of 18 would be treated as a victim. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., recently announced plans to introduce legislation to take Minnesota’s “Safe Harbor Law” model national. U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., introduced a bill in July intended to prevent runaways from being pulled into the sex trade and help those caught in it to escape for good.

Police and prosecutors already had treated Bobbi as a victim while building cases against the four people accused of being her pimps.

A glimpse of hope

Bobbi kept talking to Snyder on the phone as prosecutors put the cases together.

They spoke to each other as if they were family. Instead of answering her calls with a typical “hello,” Snyder would immediately show concern: “Hey, you OK?”

Bobbi grew anxious when she thought she might have to face the defendants in court and tell the world what she had been through. She continued treatment for drug addiction as well as mental health counseling. The trauma, guilt and shame weighed heavily on her mind, making the temptation to get high even stronger.

The Larsons and administrators at Two Harbors High School worked to design an academic program that would allow her to take classes along with her counseling so she could graduate with her class. She hoped to go to cosmetology school. Then, maybe someday, she said, she could work with police on sex-trafficking cases.

The possibility of a brighter future lay ahead. Graduation day was fast approaching. But Bobbi’s family wondered if she could make it over the long haul. Now that she was 18 and an adult, mistakes with the law would go on her record. The stakes would be higher.

Could Bobbi Larson save herself?

Part 4 tomorrow…

Saving Bobbi: Lured by Drugs, Used by Pimps (part 2)

When Bobbi Larson talks about her experiences with sex trafficking, her face often takes on a stony look. She examined an evidence bag of her clothes at the Minneapolis Police Department.

Pam Louwagie

Saving Bobbi: Part 2

Scott and Deanna Larson lay in bed unable to sleep, wondering where Bobbi was after she ditched yet another treatment center.

It was early July 2012 and they had thought their daughter was safely tucked inside Eau Claire Academy, a school and treatment center for at-risk youth in Wisconsin. But that evening, the phone rang and they learned she had run away again.

Feeling helpless, their thoughts raced. Was Bobbi hurting? Were people harming her? Would her drugged-out friends rob the Larsons’ house, as they had done once before?

As usual, Bobbi had been reported missing to the authorities, but runaways didn’t seem to be a priority. Teenagers run and teenagers come back, Scott was once told.

They began to hope Bobbi would get arrested on something minor, just so they would know she was safe.

As they dozed off, they kept a .40-caliber and a 9-millimeter handgun nearby just in case.

Even in Scott’s most troubled imaginings, he didn’t understand how quickly a runaway girl like Bobbi, with her ADHD and fetal alcohol problems, could be targeted by smooth-talking pimps or other predators. About a third of runaway teens, some advocacy groups maintain, will be approached within 48 hours on the street.

The mind of a pimp

Wearing a stylish pullover and cargo shorts, there was nothing to identify this man settling into a chair at a sidewalk cafe near the Mississippi as a pimp.

He was clean and friendly. Well-spoken. His only bling was a pair of diamond earrings. Modern-day pimps, he explained, do not look like gaudy pimps of the ’80s. They look like nice guys. Like him.

A change of heart had caused him to stop pimping and start working with police, he explained, which meant he could not be identified. But he agreed to an interview. His daughters were growing up, he said, and he wanted to warn them away from guys like him. He swore he was remorseful about what he had done.

He ordered a Jameson and tossed a “hello” to a thin girl in her 20s as she walked by, bashful eyes peeking from under bobbed hair dyed bright pink. He was skilled at spotting girls like that, and that’s what he was there to talk about: How pimps are deliberate masters at finding, tricking and enslaving vulnerable girls and young women into the sex trade.

Girls like Bobbi Larson.

Bobbi expressed frustration after struggling with her parents over her decision not to go home to visit her dad on Father’s Day.

“You look for someone who is, um …” he paused, searching for the right word. “Socially distant.” He leaned back, satisfied at that description. “Someone who’s wearing hip hop clothes, or wearing country clothes or raggedy, or wearing holey clothes. Her hair is matted. Her hair is dirty. … You can smell her.”

Finding a girl to approach is easy, he said, scanning Minneapolis’ cobbled Main Street. “From the suburbs they don’t know the difference,” he said. “I’m looking for the naïve daughter that you send back and forth to the bus stop.”

He asked open-ended questions to figure out a girl’s needs, then met them. If she wanted to get high, he offered drugs. He gave her affection, made her feel special and was reliable. All things a runaway teen like Bobbi might crave.

After showering attention on a girl, he carefully chose the right moment to suggest she help him out. “You put it up as, ‘Hey look man, you’re my woman, this is what we have to do to get money. You’re not a ho,’ ” he said. “ ‘Baby … I need to buy us this car, get us this crib.’ ”

They were techniques used by many pimps, who moved from that conversation to taking photos of a girl in sexy lingerie and putting an ad on a website, such as Backpage.com, where people pay to post want ads for everything from selling furniture to hiring for jobs. An adult section peddles “escorts” and “body rubs.”

It never took long before the phone started jangling with men eager to pay for sex.

“You really think about what you’re actually putting [a girl] through. You’re sending her in here and dealing with fat dudes, pedophiles, rapists, freaky dudes, nasty, you know.”

Other pimps — those known as gorilla pimps — take a girl far away from home and everything she knows, then beat her if she resists working for him. “Next thing you know, she’s completely loyal,” he said.

But he preferred manipulating with attention, rather than intimidation.

It’s a technique men used again and again with Bobbi Larson.

Some men gave Bobbi Larson and a friend a ride to downtown Minneapolis, dropping them off outside SexWorld, a store on Washington Avenue selling adult products and entertainment.

Descent into trafficking

Newly savvy about using dating websites to hitch rides, Bobbi said she posted a message in July 2012, offering $100 for a ride from the Eau Claire school for at-risk youth to the Twin Cities. She persuaded a friend to go with her.

She thought the man who offered the ride looked decent, but then convinced him to stop at a gas station after they saw he had duct tape and garbage bags in his car. Early that morning, they found another ride, from a man who looked nicer to them.

When they arrived in St. Paul, Bobbi told the driver they needed to use a cash machine to get the $100 to pay him. The girls ducked into an office tower with a U.S. Bank sign on it, but quickly left through a different door.

They found a ride to downtown Minneapolis from some men who dropped them off outside SexWorld, a store selling adult products and entertainment on Washington Avenue in the North Loop. Bobbi would later describe what she recalled happening next:

A man drove up, introduced himself as “E,” and invited them to his hotel room. He was in his 30s, with a shaved head and slight beard. Bobbi thought he was handsome.

At the Red Roof Inn inPlymouth, E pulled out a bag of cocaine and put some on the hotel room counter, Bobbi said. She and her friend snorted some. Buzzing with the high, Bobbi remembered hearing E tell a friend that they should “try these girls out and see if they’re even worth it.”

Bobbi knew that meant they wanted sex. She wanted more of E’s cocaine, so she worked hard to please him that night.

Later, she and her friend showered, got some food and watched TV — a reprieve of normalcy and luxury from life on the streets.

Soon E told the girls he wanted to help them get on their feet.

Bobbi told E she would need a credit card to post an ad online. He took them shopping for outfits at Citi Trends on E. Lake Street, she said. Then he took photos and gave them a credit card and his phone to post an ad on Backpage.com, according to court papers.

In 2011, 46 attorneys general, including Minnesota’s Lori Swanson, signed a letter labeling Backpage.com a “hub” of child sex traffickingand calling its efforts to limit such ads “ineffective.” Once owned by Village Voice Media, the parent company of City Pages in the Twin Cities, it was split off into an independent company last fall in the wake of the controversy.

Those posting adult ads there encounter a set of rules to which they must agree, including not posting material that exploits minors or assists in human trafficking. But anyone can click right through it.

An attorney for Backpage, Liz McDougall, explained that the company helps fight child sex trafficking through systems that include automated and human filters looking for illegal activity before ads are posted, and by reporting suspected activity and responding to subpoenas within 24 hours.

If Backpage discontinued adult ads, McDougall noted, children could be advertised on sites offshore that don’t cooperate with U.S. authorities. She would not reveal how much revenue the adult ads generate, saying Backpage is a private company.

Ads with underage girls still slip through Backpage’s safeguards. One of Bobbi’s ads tempted customers with a “Special*Choose 1 or 2 girls** 1 girl is $150 and up.” It listed the girls as “CHERRII AND PEACHES.” Another showed a photo of them, hands linked. One listed Bobbi as “BABY” and touted: “I am open-minded, and love to have men satisfied.” Another called her “HONEY” and showed a series of photographs; a “selfie” of her fully clothed, a “selfie” of her in bra and panties, and another of her backside in a thong.

When the phone rang, they answered and gave the men instructions to meet them at hotels where E would drive them — the Red Roof Inn in Woodbury, the Sandalwood hotel in Shakopee and the Northwood Inn in Bloomington, the girls would later tell police.

Many hotel workers around the country have learned how to spot sex trafficking in training spurred by Marilyn Carlson Nelson, then-chair of Carlson, a global travel and hospitality company based in Minnesota. In 2004, in her own company’s hotel chains — including Radisson, Radisson Blu, and Country Inns and Suites — she launched a groundbreaking program to train employees to look for signs of suspicious activity and report it to authorities. Then she began lobbying other hotel chains to do the same and some followed suit.

But Bobbi and E managed to work in a variety of hotels in July 2012. Bobbi recalls E supplying her with a stream of cocaine. She wanted to get high before every trick, so she could feel numb, but he wouldn’t allow it.

She lost track of how many customers paid to have sex with her over about two weeks that she was with E.

All kinds of men showed up at the hotels as she was trafficked, Bobbi recalled. Businessmen in suits. An older man who said he was a doctor. A blind man with a walking stick, who told her he had arrived there on a bus. Some men, wearing wedding rings, specified no scented lotions or baby oil because they didn’t want to raise suspicions with their wives. Some reeked of body odor.

Men buy sex for all sorts of reasons. Some want to indulge in forbidden curiosities or sexual fantasies that a regular partner would reject. Some want sex without intimacy or commitment, researchers say. Some want intimacy with someone who likely wouldn’t have sex with them otherwise. Some want to feel powerful over a subservient woman.

The legal risk for women in the sex trade has been greater than for men — although changing that has also been part of the statewide effort to redefine prostitution and how it is prosecuted.

Far more women than men have been arrested on prostitution-related charges in Minnesota during the last decade. But in recent years, federal and state prosecutors have shifted more attention toward going after pimps and customers in juvenile sex-trafficking cases. Minnesota prosecutors were filing cases in the single digits at the beginning of the past decade; they filed 59 cases in 2012.

In early 2011, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi enlisted prosecutors around the state to join him in a new approach to sex-trafficking cases, with the victim as the foremost concern. Even before the law changed, they voluntarily treated those under 18 as victims instead of criminals. Choi advocated helping victims work with authorities to pursue cases against their traffickers.

But he and other prosecutors know the dangers for girls and women being trafficked go far beyond the risk of arrest. Alberto Prece Palmer, a Woodbury man wanted in Georgia for attacking three women he met on Backpage.com, was arrested in March in the bludgeoning death of 18-year-old Brittany Clardy of St. Paul, who police say was advertising massage services on the website. Her body was found frozen in the family car in a Columbia Heights impound lot. Palmer also is suspected in the killing of Klaressa Cook, whose body was found stuffed in a car in a Minneapolis impound lot.

Leaving ‘E’

Bobbi tried to make every encounter short and impersonal, like the business transaction it was. She had little time for small talk. She recalls just wanting to get it over with.

To a 17-year-old, all of the men seemed ancient and disgusting.

But the money felt good in her hands. She was surprised at how much cash her body could command. She handed her earnings over to E.

Toward the end of the second week, E became more controlling. He wanted her and her friend to earn more, at least $500 a night each, Bobbi recalled. Some nights, when they didn’t make any money, Bobbi could see him grow angry.

Broderick Boshay “E” Robinson, 39
Plea: Guilty, promoting prostitution. He is appealing case. Sentence: 7½ years.

Meranda Lynn Warborg, 30
Plea: Guilty, sextrafficking of a minor.Sentence: Five years of probation, including one year in workhouse. If probation completed, felony converts to misdemeanor.

 

But he wouldn’t tolerate her getting upset. “I wouldn’t dare to cry around him ’cause he would say ‘You look weak right now.’ ” She learned to detach from her own emotions, and still remains stone-faced when describing it all.

“I may act tough,” Bobbi explained. “I may look tough with my tattoos, but I’m not tough…. I mean, I can fight. I can put up a fight, but emotionally I’m just distraught.”

E, whose real name is Broderick Boshay Robinson, 39, is in prison now, serving a 7½-year sentence after pleading guilty to promoting prostitution in Bobbi’s case. Over the phone from the state prison in St. Cloud, he told a different version of events, saying he believed both girls were adults auditioning for jobs stripping at SexWorld. He wanted to help them with a place to stay and use of his iPhone, he said. They were paying him back for the hotels and for driving them places. He insisted he didn’t know they were turning tricks. He maintained they left him to go with another man who had better drugs. He denied supplying them with cocaine. He has since appealed, arguing that he was misinformed and poorly represented.

Bobbi would later tell police they left E by telling him they were meeting a trick at the Snelling Motel in Minneapolis. Instead, she called a man who had been a customer and supplied them with heroin and cocaine. After E dropped them off at the motel, the other man gave them a ride out.

He said he was taking them to a house where they could stay in north Minneapolis. But first he had sex with Bobbi. Then, in the middle of the night, he pulled his car up to a one-story bungalow on Oliver Avenue.

A woman named Meranda Warborg let them in. She was 29 years old, her brown hair stylishly cropped short in back. Bobbi thought she was pretty.

Bobbi recalls being led to a bedroom toward the back of the small, cluttered house. A mattress had been flopped on the floor.

Warborg knew all about turning tricks. “The guy who brought us there, I guess he was a pimp,” Bobbi concluded later. “I think the reason why I didn’t catch on was just because I was so messed up.”

Bobbi took most of a day off before turning tricks there, she would later tell police. She gave money to Warborg for using the house and to buy some crystal meth.

In the couple of days Bobbi stayed there, she didn’t think of Warborg as a pimp, she said, but rather as someone in the same desperate situation of needing drugs and money.

On a bright summer Saturday at the end of July 2012, Warborg was walking toward her SUV parked out back when an unmarked Chevy Impala pulled up in front of the house.

Sgt. Grant Snyder stepped out.

Sgt. Grant Snyder walked down a Minneapolis hotel corridor. “It’s shocking,” he said of the demographic of men who buy sex. “They’re married, educated, have families, have good jobs.”

One cop’s metamorphosis

In all of his years on the Minneapolis police force, Snyder had asked almost every prostituted woman he encountered one question: Why did they do it?

Getting them to open up came easily for Snyder, a 51-year-old father of five who was as comfortable addressing crowds at sex-trafficking conferences as he was talking one-on-one with victims.

He knew even khaki pants could be intimidating, too business-like, to these girls and women. So he wore jeans and canvas sneakers. He complimented women on their choice of handbag. Sitting down at eye level, he spoke softly but quickly — so fast he had to occasionally pause to sneak a breath. Before victims knew it, he had them talking, too.

Snyder had taken a libertarian view of prostitution back in college, when he majored in human sexuality at the University of Minnesota: If women wanted to sell sex, why should the community stop them? Prostitution was ubiquitous in societies around the globe, he had learned.

But over the years, as he saw women and girls from all walks of life trapped in the sex business, he kept hearing the same three answers to his question about why they did it.

They were doing it only for the money.

They were trying to get out of it.

It made them feel “shitty.”

The more he heard them talk, the more he saw their own disgust over having sex with strangers. Snyder began to see them as victims.

He also saw that the customers weren’t the fringes-of-society men that most people imagined.

“It’s the people that live down the street, that work down the hallway, that attend church where we do, that eat in the same restaurants we do, our kids play together,” Snyder said. “It’s shocking when you look at the demographic of who these guys are. They’re married, educated, have families, have good jobs.”

Once, on a sting, Snyder’s fellow officer sympathized with the johns they were about to arrest. The guys had so much to lose: marriages, jobs, reputations, money.

That riled Snyder even more. For years, he said, society has treated prostituted women like dirt, stigmatizing their behavior but letting customers get off easy.

In 2009, as Snyder and other officers were busting a large sex-trafficking ring that dubbed itself “Minnesota Nice Guys,” his attitude about prostitution changed permanently.

Prostituted women in the ring served about 30 high-income clients, roughly 40 to 65 years old, who had clean backgrounds and were considered trustworthy.

Snyder saw them differently.

“I saw that these were rich guys that were using vulnerable immigrant women … like playthings that they could buy,” Snyder said. “These are men that are purchasing another person and they’re getting them to do things they clearly don’t want to do.”

After they were caught, men in the case told police that they felt they were helping women who needed money.

“All that sort of entitlement bullshit — that I can do something that makes this OK,” Snyder said. “There’s a hypocrisy in all of that.”

He came to believe that women and girls in prostitution, even those who said they were doing it voluntarily, were really doing it to survive, and they were damaged by it. It was a realization that would change his approach to policing. He would begin by immediately telling victims that he wasn’t there to get them in trouble, that he wanted to make sure they were safe and that he wanted to help them.

Intent on extricating Bobbi from the system of trafficking, Snyder walked around the house toward Meranda Warborg.

Staff writer Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.

Part 3 tomorrow…