A 24-year prison sentence for a Minnesota man and a string of guilty pleas last week in other cases underscore a heightened emphasis on human trafficking by the U.S. Department of Justice and its chief local prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Minneapolis is one of six cities launching teams to streamline federal trafficking cases, while a Minnesota law has influenced federal legislation that aims to treat young women as victims of the sex trade instead of criminals. The approach has paid off with an increased willingness by victims to testify, prosecutors say, while illustrating the sheer volume of local prostitution cases. “I think it speaks to the frequency and volume [of sex trafficking] out there,” said Homeland Security special agent Tonya Price.
In December, Luger took the uncommon step of personally trying the case of a suspect whose victims included a sixth-grade girl he raped and prostituted. “It was the perfect opportunity to be in court to take on something that matters to me on a personal level,” Luger said. His interest in human trafficking can be traced to a weekend in the late 1980s when he was a prosecutor in New York. A suspected cocaine stash house instead turned out to conceal more than a dozen Colombian teens and young women, clad in little clothing in a room with only beds and condoms. Luger scrambled to find how he could charge the suspected pimp — there was no human trafficking statute at the time — while battling immigration officials who wanted to deport the girls. He eventually found a statute governing peonage, or forced labor, and met individually with each girl to find out where they wanted to go and whether they would testify. “The minute I got told I would be U.S. attorney [in Minnesota] this went to the top of the list as one of my priorities,” Luger said.