Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the two Bemidji men arrested were working under subcontractors on the Line 3 replacement project, Enbridge has confirmed though two of those arrested were indeed working on the project they were not from Bemidji.
BEMIDJI -- Six people, including two men from Bemidji, were arrested during a recent human trafficking operation in Beltrami County over the course of two days.
According to a release, investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension-led Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force led the operation in partnership with the Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking (TRUST) Task Force, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office and the Bemidji Police Department. The operation ran from June 25-26.
The suspects responded to an advertisement placed on a sex ads website during the operation. Investigators arrested the suspects as they arrived at an arranged meeting place for a commercial sex crime. All were booked into the Beltrami County Jail on probable cause solicitation of prostitution of an adult. Charges are expected to be filed in the coming days.
The six suspects apprehended were:
- Michael Lee Eichstadt, 56, of Bemidji
- Quint Kyle Ironnecklace, 24, of Bemidji
- Lance Armon Jones, 39, of Oakville, Wash.
- Dennis Michael Murphy, 43, of Park Rapids, Minn. According to the release, Murphy also faces probable cause possession of a controlled substance.
- Matthew F. Senica, 49, of Ill.
- Philip Edward Toomey, Jr., 48, of Maywood, Mo.
Many additional agencies and organizations lent resources and expertise to this effort, the release said, including The Link; the Buffalo, Fond du Lac, Hibbing, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Thief River Falls and Upper Sioux police departments; the Red Lake Department of Public Safety; the Chisago, Hennepin and Isanti County sheriff’s offices; the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force; the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations.
“This operation was part of our ongoing, collective commitment to rid our communities of sexual exploitation.” BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said. “It is never okay to purchase another person for sex.”
Enbridge released a statement on Monday, June 28, explaining that two of the men arrested were working for a subcontractor on the Line 3 replacement project.
"Upon learning of their arrests, the employment of these two individuals was immediately terminated," the statement said. "Enbridge and our contractors have zero tolerance for illegal and exploitative actions. That is why we are joining with our contractors and unions to denounce the illegal and exploitive actions of those who participate in sex trafficking."
The statement also said that Enbridge, along with contractors Precision Pipeline and Michels, and the four unions supplying workers --International Union of Operating Engineers, Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 798 and Teamsters International -- value the work of law enforcement in combatting sex crimes.
"We remain steadfast and united in our commitment to compliance with all anti-trafficking and anti-exploitation laws and our zero tolerance for those who seek to deprive others of their fundamental freedoms and human rights," the statement said. "We encourage the employers of the other individuals charged in the Bemidji sting to stand with us to combat human trafficking in our community."
According to the statement, all Line 3 replacement project workers are required to complete human trafficking awareness training as part of their onboarding requirements as mandated in the route permit conditions issued by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Ongoing human trafficking awareness training and information includes the "It’s Your Choice" campaign emphasizing the consequences of participating in sexual exploitation and encouraging workers to be part of the solution, identifying and reporting potential sex trafficking situations.
In addition to these efforts, Enbridge said they are committed to working with Native American Tribes and the communities along the pipeline route to raise awareness of human trafficking and support local educational programmings, such as Your Call Minnesota, a training and public awareness program created in collaboration with the BCA-led MN Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force and the TRUST Task Force.
"We recognize that human trafficking is an ongoing issue in our community and in society as a whole, and we encourage everyone to join us in our commitment to working together with law enforcement and government agencies to bring awareness to the victims of these crimes, and end this illegal and exploitive behavior," the statement concluded.
Respect Minnesota, founded in 2019 during the planning and permitting process for the Line 3 Replacement project, also issued a statement on Monday about the incident.
“Human trafficking has no place in our industry,” Joe Kramer, special pipeline representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers and one of the founding members of Respect Minnesota, said in the release. “We have wonderful men and women who are working hard to provide for their families, yet a couple of individuals cast a bad light on everyone. We stand with those calling for zero tolerance. This type of behavior must stop -- everywhere and in every way. No one has the right to exploit another individual. And everyone has the right to be respected and to feel safe in the communities where they live and work.
It all starts with respect. Respect Minnesota is about respect for everyone. We don’t take sides. We believe that everyone should be treated equally. That’s why we stand up on days like today as a reminder that we still have a lot of work to do, and to provide support and encouragement for those who need it.”
The Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force was established in 2017 with funding from the Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs as a statewide enforcement effort to target traffickers and those exploiting children for sex.