NISSWA, Minn. - For more than 350 law enforcement officers at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa Thursday, Nov. 2, a demonstration on disrupting demand for underage sex trafficking became real life.
A conference of the Minnesota Sex Crimes Investigators Association featured a session led by Minneapolis police Sgt. Grant Snyder, a member of the department's human trafficking team. Set to discuss Operation Guardian Angel-a team of investigators who use technology to fight demand for sex trafficking-Snyder posted a live advertisement as an instructional tool. Answering, according to police, was 58-year-old Jack Laverne Bedell of Owosso, Mich. Bedell allegedly told an officer posing as a young woman advertising sex he was headed to the Brainerd area and wanted to meet up. According to a criminal complaint filed against Bedell, he continued to pursue sex for money even after the undercover officer told him the girl was almost 16 years old.
"What the hell break the law," Bedell allegedly responded.
Snyder consulted Nisswa Police Chief Craig Taylor about following through with the operation. With the core team of Operation Guardian Angel present for the conference and a willing buyer, Snyder said it was an opportunity to make an arrest, just as they've done in seven states and with more than 30 jurisdictions in the state of Minnesota.
More than 1,000 men have been arrested by the team since it began in February 2014.
"The whole purpose is to use technology and the marketplace where sex trafficking victims are most often trafficked and to identify, locate and arrest the buyers of juvenile sex," Snyder said in a Thursday night phone interview.
He said communication techniques the team uses ensure the crime meets the criteria of state statute 609.324, which covers penalties associated with prostitution and solicitation. This is what he teaches to other law enforcement officers in sessions such as the one scheduled Thursday.
Taylor, who was attending the conference, said he was glad to lend his officers in making an arrest.
"It was a publicity thing for us, to show that we will enforce these things," Taylor said. "This area is kind of a circuit for sex trafficking. It is certainly more prevalent than I would have ever thought it was."
Snyder, a 22-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, said the Brainerd lakes area has many of the characteristics common of sex trafficking hot spots. It's a vacation area with a high population of people coming and going, for example.
"Whether they're vacationing here or doing whatever, they're here for short durations and may be here away from their families," Snyder said.
After responding to the ad about 11 a.m. Thursday, Bedell arrived at the prearranged location to meet who he thought was a 15-year-old girl. Instead, he met Nisswa police. After Bedell was arrested, officers searched his vehicle and discovered more than 11 ounces of marijuana. Some of it was unprocessed plants. In a text conversation prior to his arrival, Bedell asked the undercover officer whether they liked marijuana and said he had some, the criminal complaint stated.
Bedell was booked in the Crow Wing County Jail and appeared in Crow Wing County District Court Friday morning, where he faced charges for three felonies: hiring for prostitution an individual believed to be between the ages of 13-16, soliciting a child to engage in sexual conduct and fifth-degree sale of marijuana. The first charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, a $40,000 fine or both. Bedell is set to again appear in court 8:30 a.m. Nov. 17.
Snyder said the ad was placed on Backpage.com, a website he said continues to serve as a marketplace for buying and selling sex, despite the shutdown of its adult section earlier this year. It's just one of the many sites and smartphone apps used by traffickers.
"Part of the reason we're really interested in teaching people how to do these, is to tell people if you're out there buying sex, that online marketplace is not a safe place for you to be," Snyder said.