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Attorney general Human trafficking is a growing problem

By Mike Dougherty

The Post-Bulletin

A prostitution ring that stretched from the Twin Cities to an alleged brothel in Austin involving illegal immigrants is an indicator that no part of the state is immune from the problems, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota said.

U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose said Thursday that the brothel in Austin was part of a "growing problem" in human trafficking and something law enforcement will continue to focus on.

"They were exploiting victims from around the world," Paulose said about the case. "It’s disturbing to see that this was often taking place in broad daylight in seemingly quiet neighborhoods."

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Paulose was in Rochester on Thursday to visit with law enforcement officials in Olmsted County, including officials at the Federal Medical Center. The top federal attorney in Minnesota has been battered by news regarding Washington’s handling of some U.S. attorneys. She declined comment on those circumstances.

Paulose’s predecessor, Thomas Heffelfinger, was not among the eight fired U.S. attorneys, but critics have cited her appointment as an example of how Attorney General Alberto Gonzales planted unprepared "cronies" in the U.S. attorney jobs. Her office became linked in the public mind with the ongoing scandal when three top managers in her office voluntarily demoted themselves amid reports that they were put off by her inexperience as a manager and autocratic leadership style.

"I can’t really talk to you about the political situation," Paulose told the Post-Bulletin. "I’m very proud of the work the office does and I think ultimately we will be judged by the work that we do."

She highlighted the prostitution ring as one of the key areas her office is focusing on for prosecution.

The case includes two Austin residents who were among 25 people indicted May 21 in federal court for operating a major prostitution ring between January 2006 and May 2007 mainly in the Twin Cities, but including a home in Austin.

The ring allegedly involved coercing and enticing female illegal immigrants and others into Minnesota and taking them around the state to have them engage in sex acts for money. The suspects derived benefits, including money, from the operation.

Charges include conspiracy, transporting a person to engage in prostitution, and coercion and enticement of another to travel in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution.

Miguel Isep-Roman, a 32-year-old also known as Meilton Rodriguez and "Angel," allegedly operated the Austin brothel and promoted it by distributing business cards advertising it.

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On May 9, Isep-Roman allegedly distributed the cards at Mystic Lake Casino near Prior Lake, Minn.

Isep-Roman, who the criminal complaint describes as an illegal immigrant, also is accused of transporting prostitutes between brothels.

Keila Villanueva, 37, also known by the first name Kayla, also is accused of operating the brothel in Austin, according to the indictment.

Villanueva is in the country legally, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Paulose said a large number of prostitution victims are immigrants, often illegal immigrants, who become trapped and fearful that they’ll be sent home.

Paulose said others need to speak with law enforcement to unhinge the operations.

Paulose said fear grips many who are concerned they might be deported, preventing them from stepping forward to report the prostitution rings, which often involve rape, she said. She noted that part of the enforcement efforts include finding help for the victims.

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