WOODBURY — Washington County charged 23 people with sex trafficking-related offences over the past two years.
In a single day, arrests exceeded two-thirds that number in Woodbury during a recent sting the week of Super Bowl.
The East Metro Human Trafficking Task Force, a multi-agency organization in Washington County, launched a week-long undercover operation targeting child sex trafficking.
The operation led the arrest of 18 men.
Each of them responded to staged online posts advertising victims as young as 13.
They agreed to meet someone they believed to be a minor at a Woodbury apartment, where law enforcement arrested each of them.
They all now face charges of soliciting a minor for sex.
Sheriff Dan Starry, whose office heads the task force, said he hopes the arrests send a clear message to traffickers and potential buyers.
Many of these perpetrators, Starry said, seek victims online through sites like Craigslist and Backpage.
"I don't know if people think they're anonymous, but what we're hoping out of all of it is that we have public awareness around it," Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry said. "We want people who are doing this activity to know we're going to continue and we will be aggressive going after them."
The Department of Justice Programs with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety recently awarded Washington County a $313,000 grant over two years to establish the sex trafficking task force.
The task force partners the Washington County Sheriff's office with police departments in Woodbury and Oakdale to curb the demand and pursue traffickers in the area.
Among the men the task force arrested was former Woodbury teacher Andrew Burfeind, 54.
Burfeind worked for School District 833 from 2009 to 2014.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Washington County, Burfeind was arrested in Woodbury while attempting to meet someone he believed to be 15.
Along with Burfeind, the following men have been charged in the sting: Jeffrey Steve Lema-Chicaiza, 23; Koushik Mamidala, 20; Prince Albert Prowd, 21; Scott Thomas Gola-Udseth, 24; Guy Henry Anderson, 47; Pah Ta Kee, 29; Mitchell Harold King, 40; Robert Aaro McClung, 61; Sadiq Hussain, 27; Saul Alvarez Ramirez, 38; Martin Roy, 52; Froylan Mendez Escamilla, 46; Taylor Gordan Diaz, 20; Santiago Cabrera Cabrera, 24; Richard Mark Bottolfson, 29; and Dwayne Gordan Johnson, 53.
Most of the men arrested, Starry said, were from the Twin Cities area.
"What we found out through our investigations over the past two years, we certainly have that issue with this problem in the East Metro area," he said.
The Task Force sting was part of a larger cooperative effort among metro area law enforcement led by the Minneapolis Police Department.
Minneapolis police will release their arrest numbers next week.
Authorities conducting the investigation also identified a multiple victims, according to a Washington County news release.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension led a separate Super Bowl sex trafficking sting yielding more than 40 arrests.
The agency identified 14 victims during the investigation.
"This is a continuation of our prior efforts by working with law enforcement to address the demand that exists for juvenile commercial sex and to bring the level of public attention and concern to this pernicious problem," County Attorney Pete Orput said in a statement.
Large sporting events like the Super Bowl often heighten public and law enforcement attention to potential sex trafficking operations.
Starry said that although the influx of visitors can lead to an uptick in buyers and traffickers, the area's commercial sex industry remains year-round.
Washington County reported processing 72 cases related to soliciting juveniles since 2016. That number includes those arrested in the most recent since.
They identified and provided resources to 50 trafficking victims during that same time period.
"As much media that surrounded the Super Bowl regarding sex trafficking and human trafficking, to have 18 individuals on one day," Starry said. "We still have a problem."