By Emily Gurnon
Updated: 07/29/2010 11:36:23 PM CDT
A former assistant Hennepin County attorney, charged with six felony counts of promoting prostitution, allegedly ran an operation that set up "nice guy" customers for prostitutes.
John Paul St. Marie, 66, of Minneapolis received free or reduced-price sex in exchange for his services, according to a criminal complaint filed Thursday in Ramsey County District Court.
Authorities said that because the crimes occurred in Hennepin County, the case was referred to Ramsey County to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
St. Marie's attorney, James Dahlquist, said he preferred to deal with the charges in court rather than in the press.
However, he said he and St. Marie were longtime friends, and that it was a sad day.
"The John St. Marie I know is a person who's been recognized for his contributions to society and the legal profession for the last 35 years" Dahlquist said. The charges are much in contrast to that."
St. Marie has been a quadriplegic since age 8, when he contracted polio, his attorney said. He worked in the civil division of the county attorney's office until four years ago, when his health forced him to leave, Dahlquist said.
The Ramsey County attorney's office said the clients — the "nice guys" — were well-to-do businessmen.
A spokesman for the Minneapolis city attorney's office said the cases against the men were "being reviewed for possible charging." He said the women will not be charged.
According to the criminal complaint:
Police began an investigation two years ago after a tip from man who had visited a prostitute and had said St. Marie was advertising the women online.
Police set up surveillance at the Radisson University Hotel in Minneapolis in August 2008. St. Marie gave a prostitute a "customer list" with appointments of men she would see. In return, he got free or reduced-price sex from the woman, the complaint said.
In October 2008, he reserved another room at the Radisson. St. Marie announced online that a woman would be arriving in Minneapolis and would be available for sex.
During a search of the room, police found a man who said he had set up the encounter through St. Marie.
The woman told police she had an agreement with St. Marie. He would set her up with "nice guys" — men he said were safe and would pay well.
The next day, police installed listening devices in a room at the Doubletree Hotel in Minneapolis, where the woman planned to meet customers. They then overheard her and a man discuss trading money for sex. Police immediately entered the room, and the man admitted he'd been recruited the previous year to be one of the "nice guys."
He agreed to act as an informant and gave police access to his e-mail account so officers could pose as the customer.
Investigators learned St. Marie planned to bring in a woman from outside the United States to Minneapolis in November 2008.
He picked her up at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and brought her to the Radisson University Hotel. After she checked into the room he reserved for her, she got back into his van and traveled to his home, the complaint said.
An investigator posing as a client contacted the woman to set up an appointment — telling her he was a friend of a "nice guy."
The woman called St. Marie to confirm the man was, indeed, approved. St. Marie told her he was. As soon as they made a deal for sex, police stepped in. The woman was intercepted by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
She was scheduled to come back into the United States, where St. Marie had set her up to work from a Chaska town home. She confirmed with police that he had provided a list of "nice guys" and had paid for her airline and hotel stays. Agents intercepted her at the airport.
In May 2009, an investigator posing as a patron from New York had a recorded phone conversation with St. Marie in which he admitted he had a list of "nice guys," and that in exchange for setting up the women with them, he received sex. He said that he was a pimp, the complaint said, and attempted to get the "client" to set up an appointment.
Several other clients were arrested and questioned. They gave similar accounts of St. Marie's role in setting up the prostitution appointments.
St. Marie, who is not in custody, is scheduled to make a first court appearance Aug. 11.
Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522.
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