Akmal Saleem Karon, 30, was arrested earlier this week by Stearns County sheriff’s deputies. He made his first appearance Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court to have bail set at $200,000.
The criminal complaint states that St. Cloud police first discovered one of the young prostitutes at a motel after a delivery person reported seeing a bruised girl in the room with an older man. Police identified Karon but the girl, then 16, told officers she had been staying with him for two weeks and they were not having sex. Police returned her to Minneapolis as a runaway case.
A motel manager pointed out the same 16-year-old to Richfield police on Aug. 4, telling officers she was there to see a man in one of the rooms. The man she was visiting was interviewed by police. He said he found her through an ad on Backpage.com. The girl admitted she was a prostitute, but said nothing else. The officers confiscated her phone and obtained a search warrant to check her calls and found she was in constant contact with Karon.
Richfield investigators obtained another search warrant for Backpage.com and found the girl’s ad with Karon’s phone number as the contact. The ads were placed in Minneapolis, St. Cloud and Duluth from the email address Ppimpin1@gmail.com.
By October, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was working on the case and set up an undercover prostitution date with the 16-year-old in St. Cloud. They arrested her and then Karon, who was driving by the scene, for driving with a suspended license. They recovered his cell phone, which revealed photos of him with several other young girls.
The 16-year-old girl told investigators that she first met Karon when she was 15. He explained to her what to tell customers and how to check for undercover stings. Karon set up her ad and obtained all the money she made. He repeatedly beat her and once burned her with a cigar, states the complaint.
On Jan. 20, St. Paul Police were called about a 14-year-old girl who reported that Karon had taken her to an apartment in St. Paul, beat her, held her captive for a week and forced her to turn tricks at a Roseville motel until she finally was able to escape, according to the complaint.
Karon was charged with eight counts of solicitation, inducement and promotion of prostitution involving the two girls.
Heather Callier, with Breaking Free in St. Paul, helps women and girls who have been prostituted find a way out. She says though she is glad prosecutors go after pimps and johns, she says they also need to find a way to stop websites like BackPage.com from making millions off human sex trafficking.
"If it's not OK for the person doing the selling and it's not OK for the person doing the buying, then it's not OK for the middle man who is facilitating the transaction," she argued.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi says his office has already shifted its frocus to helping underage prostitutes instead of prosecuting them. Now, he says it's time to focus on holding the owners of websites like BackPage.com accountable for what's happening on their website.
"What we are talking about is the selling of our children in our community, and we have to do everything we can to stop that," he said.