Last fall, a Twin Cities mother grew concerned about her daughter's new part-time job. She followed her one day and became even more worried when the teenager hopped into a car and was driven to a nice townhouse in a quiet Blaine neighborhood.
The mother contacted police, who learned that the teen and her 16-year-old friend worked for the House of Geisha Ni, an alleged prostitution business that attracted customers through a fancy website. One of the teens said their alleged boss, Maurice Ward Sr., who has been charged with two counts of promoting prostitution, provided her with prescription medications to help her stay awake, according to the criminal complaint against him.
Police are still trying to determine how many women may have worked for Ward, 38, who got one of the teens pregnant, according to the complaint. While juvenile prostitution is a continuing problem in parts of the Twin Cities, Blaine Police Chief Chris Olson said it's rare to find any kind of organized prostitution operation in Anoka County.
"No matter what county you look at, pimps are opportunistic," said Jill Oliveira, a spokeswoman for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, whose agency worked with Blaine police on the case. "They operate anywhere they can exist under the radar. If law enforcement is on to them, they move on. It's the type of criminals they are."
According to the complaint, the teens were introduced to Ward through another man who talked to them on Live Links chat line. They were taken to his townhouse in the 2200 block of 119th Lane NE., where Ward discussed his prostitution business, showed them the website and gave them business cards.
Two girls were 16
Ward told the teens, both 16, they were pretty enough "to prostitute" and asked their ages, the complaint said; when they replied "18," he said that he didn't believe them and that they looked like they were 12. The next day he picked them up, drove them to the townhouse and took pictures of them in their underwear, which he said would appear on the website, and had sex with the teens, the complaint said.
Police found the teens' pictures on the website. After they were posted, one teen said she engaged in prostitution and was paid $425, half of which she gave to Ward, the complaint said. Customers entered through the townhouse's garage, and the entire property was equipped with video surveillance.
Both teens said they had sex for money, the complaint said. One teen said she worked three days a week, following a script prepared by Ward on how to talk to potential customers on the telephone. Police arranged a "date" March 4 at the townhouse. When it was clear that prostitution would be involved, they searched the townhouse and found a gun and 25 marijuana plants, according to the complaint.
Ward was arrested and remains in jail in lieu of $400,000 bail. He currently doesn't have an attorney.
Olson said he didn't know how long Ward operated the business, which was in a typical suburban neighborhood. Any prostitution in Anoka County is rare, Olson said, especially someone who works out of a residence.
Paul Young, head of Anoka County attorney's office criminal division, said it has been at least a year since he's seen a similar case.
"Certainly, there is more of it going on than we are able to catch," he said. "I'm not naive enough to think there aren't other kids being exploited this way in Anoka County."
David Chanen • 612-673-4465