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Top 10: Law enforcement took aim at online predators

St. Croix County Sheriff's Office investigator Sgt. Brandie Hart, New Richmond police Lt. Veronica Koehler and River Falls Deputy Chief Jon Aubart were among those joining Attorney General Brad Schimel at a February news conference in Hudson. He and others discussed a Super Bowl-timed sex sting in St. Croix County. File photo

Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018.

Online sex predators landed in St. Croix County law enforcement's crosshairs in 2018.

Beginning with a Super Bowl-timed sting, the effort continued throughout the year, including training for officers to launch their own investigations into online predators.

February brought news that five people were arrested as part of a sting that coincided with the Super Bowl in Minneapolis — an event that's notorious for drawing sex traffickers. The sting, conducted between Feb. 1-2, saw the state's Division of Criminal Investigation teaming up with officers from St. Croix County, River Falls, New Richmond and Hudson law enforcement agencies.

"We must stop the exploitation of women and children in our communities," Hudson Mayor Rich O'Connor said at a February news conference, where he was joined by local law enforcement personnel and Attorney General Brad Schimel.

St. Croix County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Cathy Borgschatz said at the news conference that local law enforcement wasn't done pursuing predators once the Super Bowl packed up and left the area.

"This is the beginning and I look forward to building on what was learned and what was accomplished," Borgschatz said.

She wasn't kidding.

In September, the sheriff's office brought in officials from the state justice department's Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) division. The ICAC officials trained officers from the sheriff's office, New Richmond, Hudson and River Falls police departments on how to investigate online sex predators — those targeting children — by creating online personas. Using the personas, officers have interacted with men who have pursued them after learning they are juveniles as young as 15.

The most recent example came Nov. 28 when a North Carolina man working out of Minnesota allegedly came to New Richmond for sex with a 15-year-old. He was arrested and later charged with attempted second-degree child sexual assault, attempted child enticement and using a computer to facilitate a sex crime.

Sheriff's office leaders said they expect to continue targeting child predators well into the future after receiving donated tablets from Laptop Chips that will be used in investigations

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is a regional/enterprise reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage includes St. Croix County government, higher education and state politics in Wisconsin. 

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