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Sex trafficking seminar leads to real-life arrest

WL police cited and released Woodburn man who responded to fake advertisement

WEST LINN POLICE - Rene Cruz Mesa stopped outside West Linn Police Department. It was supposed to be just a routine training seminar.

On Tuesday, March 22, the West Linn Police Department was hosting training for neighboring Clackamas County agencies on investigating human trafficking. As part of a demonstration, the investigators teaching the class had posted an advertisement on escort-related websites.

Throughout the class, according to police, the phone number posted in the ad continually rang with would-be customers looking to employ the services of a fictitious 19-year-old who listed her location as West Linn. Most calls went unanswered as the instructor spoke to the class.


However, several calls were answered and put on speakerphone.

"(The instructor) answered the phone just to highlight how the conversation goes when investigating those types of things," West Linn Police Sergeant Mike Francis said.

In one particular instance, while on speakerphone in a classroom of detectives and officers, Woodburn resident Rene Cruz Mesa, 40, allegedly agreed to meet the woman for a "tryst.” According to police, Cruz Mesa stated he was working in West Linn as a landscaper and “just needed to know where to go.”

The investigator posing as the 19-year old gave Cruz Mesa the address to the West Linn Police Department.

“Much to the bewilderment of those in attendance, Mr. Cruz Mesa drove to the police department and continued to speak with the investigator, even providing her with a description of his landscaping truck,” Francis wrote in a press release.

Cruz Mesa was met by West Linn Police in front of the police department, and initially denied making any suspicious phone calls. However, when confronted with more than 30 witnesses who had heard him describe his truck, Cruz Mesa ultimately confessed. He was cited and released for prostitution.

"I've never had a class demonstration where it just progressed and turned into this," Francis said. "I think that's a sentiment shared by a lot of guys in the class. We were all kind of dumbfounded."

Police Chief Terry Timeus added, "This highlights a concerning issue facing the Portland Metropolitan region."

In all, police said the ad garnered 38 phone calls, 16 of which came during the class presentation.

In the end, it was a lighter moment that highlighted a serious issue. The average age of a girl forced into prostitution is 13, police said. According to Shared Home International, human trafficking, in particular sex trafficking, has become the second most lucrative commodity traded illegally, after drugs.

"We can laugh about the circumstances, but the real victims are girls — young girls being caught in lives of prostitution," said Francis.

The National Runaway Hotline reports that one out of every three teens on the street will be sexually trafficked in 48 hours. Of the more than 11,800 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2015, one in five were likely victims of child sex trafficking. Of those, 74 percent were in the care of social services when they went missing.

Community resources can be accessed through the Sexual Assault Resource Center and the Portland Women's Crisis Line 24 hours a day at 1-888-640-5311.