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Nine men arrested in prostitution sting

Nine men from Minnesota and Wisconsin were arrested for soliciting prostitution Wednesday in an Internet-based sting operation carried out in Cloquet.

Terry Hill, deputy chief of the Cloquet Police Department, said the investigation was initiated about a year ago when police learned that individuals had been seeking prostitution for hire via the Internet.

The sting operation had 28 inquiries in all, which consisted of text messages, e-mails and phone calls, Hill noted in a news release Thursday. The arrested men hail from Cloquet, Duluth, Minneapolis and Superior and range in age from 24 to 62.

"This is one of those deals that will heighten public awareness," said Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler, who will prosecute the case. "With the Internet, people have access to information and opportunities they never had in the past because it's so easy. It's also easy for a 'business entity' to get their message out. Before, a person would have to drive past a corner; now they just advertise for dates and people call.

"I think social media and Internet have really allowed this to flourish," Pertler added.

Although the sting operation was carried out in a Cloquet hotel, Hill said the facility was simply the location police chose. The hotel itself was not a part of the investigation.

"It's not a rampant problem within the city," Hill said. "We just got the information last year and acted on it to see whether or not it's an issue."

Hill declined to share details of how the arrests were made, in case the Police Department conducts a similar sting operation in the future. He did note that the men were arrested before they made any physical contact with anyone.

The county attorney said he is awaiting paperwork and will formally charge the men after the July Fourth holiday, and he expects their first court case to come in late July. News Tribune policy is generally to not name defendants until they are formally charged.

The solicitation of prostitution is a gross misdemeanor. Pertler also said all nine men had posted bail, which was set at $6,000 or $600 cash.

The Cloquet Police Department partnered with local and federal law enforcement agencies -- including the Lake Superior Gang and Drug Task Force, Duluth Police Violent Crimes Bureau, the Carlton County Sheriff's Office and federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- in conducting the investigation and sting operation.