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Minn. Investigators Target Child Sex Predators During 'Operation Broken Heart'

Updated: 05/30/2014 7:42 AM
Created: 05/29/2014 12:12 PM KSTP.com
By: Jennie Olson

There’s a demand for underage sex here in Minnesota, and law enforcement officials want the public to know that they’re not putting up with it.

That was the message St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi communicated during a press conference Thursday in St. Paul.

The press conference came after the arrest of a Minneapolis middle school teacher who is accused of soliciting sex from a minor. Twenty-three-year-old Joel Fowler of St. Louis Park, who is a teacher at Olson Middle School, was arrested Tuesday and has been charged with two counts of electronic solicitation of a child.

The arrest happened after Fowler allegedly posted a Craigslist ad indicating that he was looking for someone younger than himself. An undercover sergeant responded to the ad posing as a 14-year-old girl, and Fowler agreed to meet up in a St. Paul park to have sex, according to the criminal complaint.

Fowler’s case is part of an initiative with the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force called Operation Broken Heart. The task force is working with law enforcement agencies throughout the state to investigate and prosecute criminals who exploit children on the Internet. The unit also offers victim services and community education to help prevent abuse.

On Thursday, a judge granted Fowler $1,000 bail with conditions, which include he can't be around girls 16 or younger and he can't use the internet.

“This will be the fourth case in Ramsey County that we have actually charged for this particular offense,” Choi said about the Fowler case. “All of those cases involved a similar type of fact scenario and involve undercover agents purporting to be 14-15 years of age, both boys and girls.”

Both Smith and Choi said they are actively pursuing these types of cases and that they expect more arrests to come in the near future.

“I want the public to know that this demand for sex with teenage children is here in the state of Minnesota; it’s here in our community,” Choi said. “As we work on these issues from a law enforcement perspective, we will hold accountable those individuals who commit these crimes.”

Law enforcement officials are encouraging parents to openly communicate with their children and explain the dangers of the Internet.   

 “One thing to get out to the public is that this is something we’re not going to stand for,” Smith said. “We want parents to check with your children, talk about Internet safety, talk about some of the pitfalls and different sites they can go to. There are predators out there who are willing to take advantage of young children."

Learn more about how to talk to kids about Internet dangers.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi
Twenty-three-year-old Joel Fowler of St. Louis Park
Photo: Ramsey County Sheriff's Office

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