Major crimes unit grows
Three new employees will help the Washington County Attorney's Office fight sex trafficking.
Jerry Wallerich, Pam Hughes and Jessica Hockley will serve as program coordinator, senior legal assistant and law clerk, respectively. They will work in the major crimes unit under Assistant County Attorney Imran Ali.
The unit was created to pursue and prosecute organized crime operations such as illegal drug distribution networks and identity theft and fraud rings. But the focus shifted primarily to the sex trade in Washington County as the scope of the problem became apparent.
Wallerich is a retired detective sergeant with the Minneapolis Police Department. As program coordinator, he'll train police, prosecutors and social workers in the detection and apprehension of pimps and predators as well as the rescue of their victims.
"This guy did 10 years of murder cases in Minneapolis," Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said. "He's going to be doing a lot of the training and he's going to help us on getting the victims prepared, all the little stuff. And there's a lot of it."
The major crimes unit also monitors online sites such as Craigslist and Backpage, where traffickers and predators often place ads to buy or sell sex.
But that task has become more challenging since Backpage shut down its adult classified advertising section in the United States last month, Orput said. Some hailed the shuttering of the site, which one prosecutor called "the world's largest online brothel." But others said Backpage was a useful investigative tool where they could keep an eye on things.
"It was kind of nice we had a one-stop shop to look for these knuckleheads," Orput said. "Now. we have to look deeper. It's become a little more complicated because all they did was to go somewhere else."
The hires were funded in part by a $184,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. The grant also will pay for a contract with Computer Forensic Services, who will assist with the gathering and analyzing of cell phone and computer data in sex trafficking investigations.
Cellphones have become the tool of choice for pimps and predators, CEO Mark Lanterman said.
"In my experience, most human trafficking cases tend to involve multiple cellphones and tablets," he said.