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Charges: Woodbury woman's neglect of vulnerable adult led to sexual exploitation

A Woodbury woman was charged last week following allegations that she brought a mentally impaired teenager to Ramsey County, where the 19-year-old was sexually exploited on multiple occasions.

The St. Paul City Attorney's Office charged the woman, 50-year-old Cheryl Ann Tchida, with one count of neglect of a vulnerable adult, a gross misdemeanor. According to a criminal complaint, Tchida was the teenager's legal guardian.

"The facts in this case are outrageous," said St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing. "We're trying to do everything we can to prosecute this case."

The complaint outlines a series of occasions when Tchida allegedly brought the teen - who prosecutors say operates at the age of a 5- or 6-year-old - to places where she was forced to have sex.

It began with a Roseville hotel on July 3, 2012, where the teen was supposed to "hang out" with a 17-year-old male she had met at a fast food drive-thru. When she arrived, she met the 17-year-old, who was accompanied by a 33-year-old man and four other men.

That night, the teenager was forced into sex with four men there, the complaint states. The 33-year-old allegedly used the teen's cellphone to set up a LiveLinks advertisement soliciting others to have sex with her for money. When the teen refused the idea, the man threatened to harm her, the complaint states.

The teen reported having sex with five "customers" that night, according to the complaint.

The 33-year-old man, who was not charged in the case, took photos of the money made through the sex acts and sent it to Tchida over the phone. Tchida admitted to police that she received the photo that night, as well as a call from the 19-year-old woman.

The alleged victim asked Tchida to pick her up, but she never did, the complaint states. Tchida admitted to investigators that when she called the woman back, the 33-year-old male answered the phone and told her the woman "needs more chocolate and isn't coming home."

Tchida didn't report that the woman had been allegedly raped and forced into prostitution until Aug. 8.

In between those dates, Tchida allegedly brought the teen to a St. Paul location, where she went to an apartment building where the 33-year-old man lived. On July 8, the 33-year-old man allegedly took the woman to Minneapolis, where she was made to have sex with "several different men" for money. She was brought back to St. Paul later that day, where Tchida picked her up and was told about the exploitation, the complaint states.

Grewing said it was learned in mid-August that the teen had become pregnant, a fact she called "too sad to even comprehend."

Ramsey County prosecutors declined to prosecute the case.

Grewing said the case illustrates the difficulty in prosecuting crimes involving vulnerable adults as victims and witnesses. Often, Grewing said, there may be only one caretaker or guardian that vulnerable adults can trust.

Tchida is listed as the 19-year-old's sole caretaker, according to the complaint.

"We can guess that that's maybe why this went on so long," she said, adding that "the fact that this was so systematic just breaks your heart."

Grewing said her office will push for changes in the law to make similar cases easier to prosecute.

Washington County case

The Ramsey County allegations, however, aren't the only Tchida is facing.

Washington County prosecutors in December charged Tchida with one count of insurance fraud, a felony. She is to appear in court on Wednesday, Jan. 9.

Tchida is accused of lying to a Woodbury insurance agent in order to receive a new insurance policy after hers had been canceled by another company, according to a criminal complaint.

After the new policy was approved, Tchida filed a claim related to water damage. The company paid out her $6,660 claim, but later learned through investigation that her application for insurance had been answered fraudulently, the complaint states.

Prosecutors say Tchida answered "no" during the application process to questions probing her most recent insurance coverage, how many claims she had filed and whether she had been convicted of insurance-related offenses.

The complaint says Tchida concealed a 2011 insurance fraud conviction and only reported three of the eight insurance claims she had filed during the application process.

Due to the alleged misrepresentation, State Farm Insurance had to absorb the $6,600 water-damage claim.

Tchida was sentenced last summer to more than $8,000 in fines following a different insurance fraud conviction.

In that case, prosecutors alleged Tchida tried bilking Farmers Insurance Co. out of claims she said resulted from a 2010 wind and hail storm. A Farmers investigator became suspicious of the claims and turned over information to Woodbury police.

Police said Tchida's claims that damage to a $3,500 swing set and a $2,300 gas grill had been falsified.

The charges came less than a year after Tchida was convicted of a separate insurance fraud case. In that instance, she was sentenced to 40 days in jail for one count of felony insurance fraud stemming from a January 2010 case. In that case, Tchida had reported a $5,000 TV set, $10,000 in tools and $6,500 in cash were stolen in a burglary. The missing TV was later found stashed in a room above Tchida's garage; family members told police no burglary had actually occurred.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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