In Minnesota's first-ever labor trafficking conviction, a Baldwin, Wis. veterinarian was sentenced to more than four years Wednesday for trafficking women from East Asia to Minnesota.
Brian Lee Kersten, 61, of Pleasant Valley, Wis., pleaded guilty last fall to two felony counts of engaging in the sex trafficking of a person and aiding and abetting labor trafficking.
On Wednesday, March 8, Kersten received 48- and 53-month prison sentences for each charge, respectively.
His sentences will be served concurrently, meaning he will serve prison time for both sentences at the same time. At least three of those years would need to be served in prison.
The case also marked the first labor trafficking conviction and sentencing in Minnesota.
The Washington County Attorney’s office has ramped up its focus on prosecuting sex trafficking in recent years. The office has created a special unit tasked with prosecuting cases ranging from adults who troll the web for underage girls and boys to traffickers who hire out adults and minors for sex.
County Attorney Pete Orput said in a statement that the case against Kersten is part of a wider trend in Minnesota.
“This case merely shows the depth and breadth of the sex trafficking occurring in this state,” Orput said. “We, as a concerned public, need to acknowledge this and persevere in doing all we can to bring labor and sex traffickers to the justice they deserve.”
Kersten, who owned a Baldwin Veterinary Clinic, admitted he transported women from China to the Extended Stay hotel in Woodbury, Minn., last summer. Prosecutors charged him last September.
Imran Ali, the Washington County assistant attorney who prosecuted the case, said in a statement that Kersten was part of an international conspiracy to bring foreign nationals into the state where they would work as prostitutes.
An investigation found Kersten had been working with a Shixin Zhang, a Chinese national, who lived in New York.
Authorities said Kersten would give a cut of his profits to the New York madame for women he shuttled from the East Coast to Twin Cities hotels where they advertised their services on backpage.com.
According to court filings, a family member told Wisconsin law enforcement officials that Kersten had been bringing young girls from China to work in massage parlors.
“We have to remember that these are not victimless crimes,” Ali said. “All these women being trafficked are indeed victims.”