Ramsey County officials have charged five St. Paul area residents in connection with a multi-state sex trafficking ring that involved at least five different female victims.
County Attorney John Choi announced Tuesday that each defendant faces multiple sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. They are (pictured left to right, above):
· Thomas William Evans, 25, of St. Paul
· Ishmel Jamaine Williams, 21, of St. Paul
· Suwan Dominique Cross, 19, of West St. Paul
· Doris Marie Keller, 38, of St. Paul
· Yolanda Katrice Foster, 28, of St. Paul
Four of the five will make their first court appearance Wednesday.
"This was a well-organized sex trafficking operation, funded entirely by men paying for sex with vulnerable girls and young women in our community," said Choi in a news release.
Sting op led to investigation
St. Paul police began investigating the defendants last September after officers rescued a 17-year-old victim through an undercover sting operation, according to the criminal complaints.
The girl was listed on Backpage.com as "Ms. Juicy," and an undercover officer set up an appointment with her at a St. Paul home via a text message, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
All five defendants were at the house or nearby when the officers arrived, but they denied any knowledge of the sex trafficking scheme, according to the complaint.
The victim was removed, and when police searched the premises the next day they found several cell phones and "Vanilla" Visa prepaid debit cards, which are commonly used in the sex trafficking trade because they're difficult to trace, WCCO reports.
Police determined that several of the cards were used to buy ads on Backpage.com for sex trafficking in several states, including Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia and Kentucky.
Victims abused, given drugs
The complaints also describe how the defendants lured one young woman from Texas to Minnesota by promising her a better life, including a car and a house, according to WCCO.
Other victims were recruited from St. Paul, and all were required by the defendants to have sex with men several times a day for money, and then turn over all the money to the ringleaders. Some of the victims were sent to "johns" in other states.
Choi said the defendants controlled the victims by keeping close watch on them, verbally intimidating them, hitting them in the legs and giving them drugs.
"Today’s charges are a glaring reminder that men in our community still think it is okay to purchase human beings for sex and that traffickers are all too eager to oblige," said Choi.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 40 percent of the victims of sex trafficking are children.