An undercover operation in Redwood County led to the arrest of a police chief in Walnut Grove.
The undercover operation, known by police as Operation Guardian Angel, was targeting individuals involved in underage sex trafficking. The operation resulted in three arrests, including that of Michael Robert Zueg, the Police Chief in Walnut Grove. The other two men were a 41-year-old from Montevideo and a 40-year-old from Renville.
“The goal of the operation is to identify those individuals who want to solicit minors for sex,” said Redwood County Attorney Steven S. Collins.
BackPage and Craigslist Stings
Law enforcement officers carried out the operation by posting sexually charged advertisements on the popular marketplace websites BackPage.com and Craigslist.com. Specific details about the postings were not released, although they did say that the police chief was accused of trying to solicit sex from someone who told him they were 17 years old.
All three suspects face charges of engaging in, hiring or agreeing to hire a minor to engage in prostitution, a felony offense under Minnesota law. Zeug’s employment status was discussed last night at a Walnut Grove City Council meeting, but details have yet to be made known.
Operation Guardian Angel was made possible with the assistance of the Minneapolis Police Department, the Woodbury Police Department, the Lower Sioux Police Department, the Sleepy Eye Police Department, the Redwood County Sheriff’s Office, the Renville County Sheriff’s Office and the Brown-Lyon-Redwood Drug Task Force.
Combating Underage Sex Trafficking
Small Minnesota towns can be a hotbed for sex trafficking. According to FBI statistics, the Twin Cities is the 13th largest center in the US for child prostitution. Rural Minnesota towns offer more isolation and a lack of awareness from the public or law enforcement, which means sex traffickers can operate more freely. It’s also clearly problematic when individuals in positions of power who are sworn to protect women against these crimes are out there engaging in the activity.
However, Minnesota is doing what they can to fight back. The Safe Harbor Law, which was passed in 2011, redefines how children who participate in sexual exploitation are viewed in the eyes of the law. Instead of being seen as participating in criminal activity, they are seen as victims and survivors who need our help. The Safe Harbor Law also increased penalties for underage abusers and purchasers.
So if you suspect that something illegal like sex trafficking is taking place in your town, don’t stay quiet. It’s only going to get worse as the Super Bowl gets closer, and these victims need our help to get out of dangerous situations. If you see something, say something, and if you are being victimized, we can help. Contact us today.