WALNUT GROVE, Minn. (WCCO) — A western Minnesota police chief has been arrested as part of a covert operation aimed at underage sex trafficking.
Forty-five-year-old Michael Zeug was one of three men who police arrested last Friday as part of Operation Guardian Angel in Redwood County.
Zeug is the police chief in Walnut Grove.
“I never had anything that would lead me to believe that he was somebody that could do something like this,” Redwood County attorney Stephen Collins said.
It was a first-of-its-kind sting operation in Redwood County, and when the fake prostitution ads were put on Craigslist, investigators say one of the first to respond was a small town police chief.
“Mr. Zeug believed he was talking to a 17-year-old,” Collins said.
According to the complaint, Walnut Grove Police Chief Michael Zeug thought the undercover officer he was texting with was a 17-year-old girl.
Zeug denied being a cop and he allegedly said, “I’m just a hard-working farming dude looking for discreet fun.”
The complaint said he also asked for nude photos, agreed to pay for sex and said, “Yeah, this isn’t my first time.”
He was arrested near a decoy house in Redwood Falls that was used in the sting. Police found a law enforcement radio in his car that monitors police channels.
“The thing that’s troubling, too, is not only that he would participate in this kind of activity, but that he would participate in this kind of activity essentially in his backyard,” Collins said.
On Monday night in a special meeting, the Walnut Grove City Council voted to suspend Zeug without pay. WCCO was not allowed in the meeting.
“He’s our only person in the office, so we have to see how we make Walnut Grove move forward and how we get through this,” Mayor Greg Hansen said.
Zeug’s arrest isn’t just a problem for Walnut Grove – it means that any court case he was investigating as a police chief could now be in jeopardy.
Collins charged Zeug, but won’t be the one prosecuting him, because they’ve worked together in the past.
“It’s a complete betrayal. I’ve known Mike Zeug for many, many years and have relied on him to bring cases forward from Walnut Grove because we’re the prosecuting authority in Walnut Grove. I was shocked,” Collins said.
Brown County will prosecute Zeug’s case.
He could get up to five years in prison for the felony charge.