Jury acquits man of felony prostitution charge

Lippert found guilty on misdemeanor charge

NEW ULM — After nearly four hours of deliberation Friday, a jury of nine men and three women acquitted a 39-year-old Willmar man of felony prostitution but found him guilty of misdemeanor prostitution in Brown County District Court.

Joshua T. Lippert was accused of intentionally hiring, offering or agreeing to hire an individual under age 18 to engage in sexual penetration or sexual contact. He was among eight suspects charged in a week-long undercover sex sting operation in Springfield in August 2017.

Suspects ranged in age from 20 to 70. Court documents detailed suspects and law enforcement sending hundreds of text messages to each other.

The sting operation included New Ulm and Springfield Police, Brown and Nicollet County Sheriff’s Office staff and the Mankato Department of Public Safety.

“While I respect the decision the jury came to and am happy he was found guilty of the misdemeanor crime, I am disappointed he was not found guilty of the felony count,” said Assistant Brown County Attorney Dan Kalk. “Investigators Hohensee and Moellenhoff and their entire team of officers and deputies have done a remarkable job trying to keep our community safe, and this decision does not diminish that. The jury took their time in deliberating and came to the decision they felt was right given the evidence they heard and saw.”

Kalk said Lippert was willing and ready to commit a crime and that he brought up sex first while texting to undercover law enforcement who posed as 16-year-old “Ashley,” who said her drunk mother often left her at home alone, without food or money she needed for her cell phone.

“He (Lippert) drove 65 miles from Willmar to Springfield to have sex with a child for $100,” Kalk said.

New London defense attorney John Mack called it “a classic case of entrapment with law enforcement posting online ads and having someone play a woman and get a man involved before telling him she is under age 18.”

“She kept after him. He (Lippert) had doubts and she’d bring him back,” Mack said.

A divorced trucker who said he had no criminal record, Lippert testified that he has been searching dating sites for years but never with a teenager until last August.

Lippert testified he found dates with women, usually age 25 to 40 on Craig’s List prior to getting caught in the Brown County sex sting.

Investigators acted in an undercover capacity as 16-year-old females willing to trade sex or sex acts for money or narcotics according to court documents. The first advertisements posted online on Aug. 20, 2017 drew many responses, according to New Ulm Police Department Senior Investigator Jeff Hohensee.

After suspects initiated a text conversation, law enforcement directed them to text message them at an undercover cellular number. Investigators text messaged Lippert Aug. 20-26. There was a total of 214 text messages between Lippert and undercover law enforcement.

The online ad initially listed the girl as 18 years old because they must be at least that old to post. A text message to Lippert later read that the girl was 16 years old. Lippert asked her if she is a police officer, and was told she was not. Lippert then agreed to have sexual intercourse and sex acts in exchange for $100, according to court documents.

Lippert arrived at the Springfield undercover residence at 4:58 p.m. on Aug. 26 and was arrested without incident. He had $145 in cash and three condoms when he entered the residence.

Kalk asked Lippert if “Ashley” (the undercover name) asked him for $100 to have sex with him. Lippert agreed that she told him she would charge him for sex and that he maybe would do it for that price.

In addition, Lippert agreed that he texted Ashley a nude photo of his groin and asked her to send him nude photos of herself.

Lippert testified he felt coerced into coming to Springfield and felt “bad” for “Ashley.”

District Court Judge Robert Docherty defined the word “hire” as retaining another to perform work or services for money or other compensation.

Judge Robert Docherty ordered a pre-sentence investigation and set Lippert’s sentencing for 9:15 a.m., Monday, Oct. 15.