State Court of Appeals upholds conviction in prostitution sting

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a felony prostitution conviction May 13 against a 48-year-old Cottonwood man sentenced last fall in Brown County District Court.

Paul R. Lund Jr. received a stay of imposition Sept. 17, 2018 for the prostitution charge, which stated he he was hiring a 16-year-old girl for sex.

Lund was sentenced in Brown County Court to serve 30 days in jail, given credit for four days served, and may serve in another county if fees were paid. He was placed on five years supervised probation with conditions including that he complete a Prostitution Awareness program approved by probation. He was fined $3,085 and ordered not to use or possess firearms, ammunition or explosives.

Lund’s attorney Jacob M. Birkholz of Mankato challenged Lund’s conviction, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to establish he reasonably believed the female he agreed to hire was 16 years old and that the district court applied the wrong legal standard.

Birkholz argued that the age element of the offense requires the state to prove the actor “reasonably believes” the person he agreed to hire for sex “to be under the age of 18 but at least 16.”

Birkholz argued that the district court erred by applying a subjective, rather than objective standard on the element.

In district court, Birkholz argued that the state has no affirmative age evidence, the whole story is a lie, and beyond credibility.

Lund’s testimony that his desire to have sex with a 16-year-old was merely “reminiscing,” and that he went to the address only out of “curiosity,” was rejected in district court.

The Court of Appeals affirmed that record evidence was sufficient to prove that Lund subjectively and reasonably believed “Ashley” was 16 years old and that there was no error in the district court’s application of the law.

Lund was among eight males arrested in the sting case involving hundreds of text messages sent between them and law enforcement. Undercover investigators rented a Springfield residence and acted as 16-year-old females willing to trade sex or sex acts for money or narcotics.

An advertisement was posted online Aug. 20, 2017. After suspects initiated email conversations, they were directed to text message undercover agents at their cell number, according to court documents.

Lund testified in district court that he punched in “Sioux Falls escorts” on Google out of curiosity and for a little fun, clicked on “skip the games,” and viewed a photo and phone number before sending a message.

“I assumed it was someone 18 years old,” Lund said in district court. “After getting two photos, I had doubts. The girl looked older than 18. I asked her about birth control. Talking dirty is fun. I got so curious, I couldn’t stop myself.”

Lund said he drove to the Springfield residence. He said a female police officer answered the door, he took a step forward, was pulled inside and arrested.

Officers found $267 on Lund. Sex rates discussed were $200 to $250, according court documents.

The undercover sting operation was made possible with grants received from the Minnesota Women’s Foundation “Girls Are Not For Sale” campaign and the Minnesota Department of Justice.

(Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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