Charges: Minnesota couple operated ‘large-scale’ sex trafficking enterprise; arrest made in Woodbury
Washington County authorities allege two people arrested May 16 ran a large-scale prostitution and sex trafficking operation.
Ricky Arlen Turner Jr., 28, and Brittany Marie Harenza, 25, face felony racketeering and concealing criminal proceeds charges in Washington County. Turner also was charged with engaging in the trafficking of a minor and promoting prostitution, both felonies.
According to the criminal complaint filed March 18 in Washington County District Court, the operation offered commercial sex services in more than a dozen other states.
Washington County Major Crimes Prosecutor Imran Ali said the case represented an expansive operation that stretches nationally as well as in Minnesota.
"This is a large-scale, sophisticated enterprise centered around the exploitation of women that's been going on for several years,” Ali said during a court hearing May 18.
A subpoena requested from Backpage.com revealed advertisements for more than 35 women associated with an account traced to Harenza's IP address.
Woodbury police arrested Harenza at the Woodbury Country Inn & Suites hotel around 6 p.m. May 16.
Woodbury Det. Chris Howard contacted Harenza through one of the advertisements and arranged to meet her at the hotel as part of a multi-department undercover operation including St. Paul, Oakdale, Cottage Grove and Eden Prairie police.
Harenza was arrested after Howard provided $550, which had been discussed through undercover text messages.
Turner was arrested hours later when Minnetonka police raided the couple’s lakefront home May 16. Authorities said a minor that Turner and Harenza had recruited was present at the home during the arrest.
The arrests came after months of monitoring by authorities in Woodbury, according to the complaint.
Minnetonka police chief Scott Boerboom said his department had been investigating with Woodbury police, but had little prior knowledge of alleged criminal activity operating out of the home until earlier this year.
“We’re not even sure how long they lived there,” Boerboom said.
Officers surveilling the home noted frequent, short-term visitors to the house — a red flag for the commercial sex trade.
The couple repeatedly referred to their operation in variations of "Finesse."
The phrase appears throughout the couple's communications and social media profiles, as well as a business police suspect was used to funnel illegally obtained money into bank accounts.
Harenza's social media profiles display a Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card issued to a company called "Finesse the World."
The company is registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State under the name "Finesse the World and Co., LLC" and lists its address at the Tamarack Hills business campus in Woodbury.
Detectives found a website associated with the business that appeared to sell clothing but did not have any items listed for sale.
Woodbury Police Chief Lee Vague said his department, along with a number of other law enforcement agencies in the county and metro, have upped their focus on disrupting sex trafficking operations in recent years.
Last year, Woodbury Police logged 12 arrests related to prostitution -- five of which had connections to human trafficking.
In cases involving minors, Vague said the county and other agencies connect them to resources, such as safe housing and other forms of support.
“These are not victimless crimes. These are young people who are being trafficked,” he said. “It goes way beyond just arresting people.”
Turner is being held on $500,000 bail and Harenza is being held at $150,000.
A district judge also ordered the couple have no contact with each other, as well as with the unidentified 17-year-old listed in the complaint.
Turner has multiple robbery convictions in Minnesota. St. Paul police also arrested him as part of a nationwide sex-trafficking sweep in 2013.
No federal criminal charges were filed in that case.