By Erin Hassanzadeh

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Final Four brings tens of thousands of visitors to town but it also attracts a flurry of sex trafficking activity.

Nearly five dozen people are facing possible felony charges following their arrests for attempting to solicit children for sex or for trafficking victims, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

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State investigators arrested nearly 58 people in an undercover sex trafficking operation from April 4 through April 8, during the Final Four.

“People are not welcome in our state to come conduct these activities,” BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said.

During the five-day event, detectives from 34 different law enforcement agencies went undercover to catch solicitors and traffickers in the act.

“We’re actually out posing as undercover individuals and they were soliciting us online … the undercover officers,” Evans said.

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During the operation, 47 people were arrested on probable cause of soliciting minors, and 11 more were arrested on probable cause of sex trafficking, promotion of prostitution. That is more than the 43 who were arrested during a similar Super Bowl sting operation

“We saw how much demand there really was in these operations and so we ramped up our operations accordingly,” Evans said.

Twelve people have been charged in Hennepin County. In Anoka County, Marcellus Braswell is charged with dropping off a 16-year-old to provide sex for money and is facing up to 20 years in prison or a $50,000 fine. In Ramsey County, Adrian Cortez Edwards is charged with engaging in the sex trafficking of an individual for dropping off a woman to engage in sex for money at a Maplewood hotel over the weekend. He could receive up to 15 years in prison, a $30,000 fine or both.

“Some of them we know through our investigation came in specifically for the Final Four,” Evans said. “We want this activity to end we want to make it so it’s not okay to traffic human beings.”

Twenty-eight victims were rescued from trafficking situations during the operation, including one minor. This Human Trafficking Investigators task force is active statewide and year-round.

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If you see someone who is immediate danger of being trafficked call 911. You can also call the BCA to report a suspected trafficking situation at 877-996-6222. Victims can text “HELP” to 233733; that is a national hotline resource.

Erin Hassanzadeh