Two Line 3 workers arrested for soliciting sex as part of human trafficking sting

The Duluth News Tribune reported Tuesday that two of the seven people arrested in a northern Minnesota human trafficking sting were Enbridge Line 3 workers, “fueling concern that construction of the oil pipeline is bringing a higher risk of sex crimes to the area.”

Arrested were:

  • Michael Kelly West, 53, of Rolla, Missouri, who was charged with one count of carrying a pistol without a permit and one count of solicitation to engage in prostitution.
  • Matthew Ty Hall, 33, of Mount Pleasant, Texas, who was charged with one count of solicitation of a person believed to be a minor.

The sting involved web ads that engaged potential customers in sex-for-money conversations, the story said. Perhaps of most concern, West told arresting officers he heard about the ads “from rumors at work.”

That means this isn’t an isolated incident; other workers are talking about it.

[Update: StarTribune story here.]

Sheila Lamb, a pipe carrier with Ojibwe and Cherokee tribal affiliations, said she’s been pretty angry the past few days, since learning about the arrests. Lamb was an expert witness on human trafficking during the Line 3 debates before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on behalf of the Youth Climate Intervenors.

“We warned them [the PUC] again and again that this was going to happen,” she said. “They didn’t listen to a thing we said.”

Mysti Babineau testifies in 2019 on a bill to improve the tracking and reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives. At right: Rep.Mary Kunesh-Podein.

Mysti Babineau, a member of the Red Lake Nation, has been working to address the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives (MMIW-R) for years. To her, the link between Line 3 construction and human trafficking is clear.

“There is a definite connection between what we are doing to the land and what we are doing to our women,” she said. “We no longer will tolerate that here.”

A visceral debate

We need to look beyond the arrests to the systemic problems that got us here.

Start with the five Public Utilities Commission (PUC) commissioners who gave Line 3 its initial approvals in 2018. They were all white, middle-class to upper-middle-class decision-makers who didn’t seem to have the same sense of urgency and fear around sex trafficking as Indigenous people and others in more at-risk communities. As a group, they had a glaring blind spot.

Throughout the process, Indigenous peoples and tribes raised concerns about how large construction projects such as Line 3 could increase the drug and sex trafficking in the area. Indigenous youth and women already are disproportionately affected by trafficking, part of the MMIW-R epidemic.

Lamb testified before the PUC June 27, 2018, the day before the vote on Line 3 permits. She talked about the problems she saw happening in the Bakken oil field man camps, a notorious feature of the North Dakota oil boom.

“I work — and have to face week after week — trafficked youth, children who are taken out to the Bakken oil fields and other areas,” Lamb told commissioners. “This is a dire concern for Minnesota.”

Human trafficking represented a continuation of cultural genocide on Indigenous peoples, she said. “It is the continuation of multi-generational historical trauma that we have been trying to heal from, and have not been able to because it is one assault after another after another.

A broken promise

Enbridge Attorney Christina Brusven asks commissioners not to use the term “man camp.”

Enbridge and representatives from labor unions expecting to work on the project bristled at suggestions that their workers would engage in sex buying. They acknowledged that sex trafficking was a problem in the broader community, but denied any unique connection between sex trafficking and large construction projects such as Line 3.

Kevin Pranis, Marketing Manager for laborers union LIUNA, said he hoped the PUC would not associate Line 3 workers with sex trafficking, and “smear our membership.”

Christina Brusven gently chided PUC Commissioner John Tuma who had referred to “man camps” and “Line 3” in the same breath. “Man camps” had a negative connotation, she said.

Minnesota wouldn’t have man camps, Brusven said. Workers would stay in hotels and campgrounds. “They are bringing their families.”

(At one point, Tuma apologized to Brusven for using the term “man camp,” as he didn’t intend to denigrate “union folks,” he said.)

Lamb pushed back on the idea that no man camps meant more safety. “When you disperse these workers into our campgrounds and our hotels, you are making it more difficult for our law enforcement officials to stay on top of it,” she said.

During the hearing, Sara Van Norman, an attorney for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said there wasn’t an effective plan in place to deal with human trafficking issues that Line 3 could bring. “We need it as soon as possible,” she said.

Brent Murcia, a member of the Youth Climate Intervenors, told the PUC that Enbridge’s had promised to provide a copy of its human trafficking prevention plan to parties to review and comment on prior to the Line 3 vote. Enbridge still hadn’t delivered, and people still wanted to comment, he said.

Murcia got the perfunctory “thanks for your comments.” Not one of the five PUC commissioners followed up to ask Enbridge execs why they hadn’t followed through on their promise.

My guess: Enbridge didn’t provide the document because it was confident it wouldn’t face consequences. The PUC wouldn’t force the issue.

Sheila Lamb. Screen grab of PUC video of June 27, 2018 hearing

In the end, the Human Trafficking Prevention Plan wasn’t a pre-condition for approval, but an afterthought.

On the following day, June 28, 2018, the PUC approved Line 3’s Route Permit and Certificate of Need, sans plan. It added a condition that Enbridge had to develop and implement a Human Trafficking Prevention Plan, coordinating with the Minnesota Indian Advisory Committee, any Minnesota Tribe that wished to participate and a few specific agencies.

Permit in hand, Enbridge would eventually submit a flawed plan and the PUC would rubber stamp it.

A flimsy plan

In a statement today to Healing Minnesota Stories, Enbridge confirmed that two individuals who formerly worked for a Line 3 contractor were arrested in a human trafficking sting in Itasca County. They both were immediately fired, it said.

“Enbridge has zero tolerance for all illegal and exploitive behavior,” the statement said. It continued:

Pursuant to the project’s route permit, Enbridge developed and implemented a Human Trafficking Prevention Plan in cooperation with several Tribal and State entities. In addition to requiring that all workers receive human trafficking awareness training prior to beginning work on the project, the plan also included development of an awareness campaign called Your Call Minnesota (yourcallmn.org).

(Comment: Your Call Minnesota looks like a useful site. Check it out. It says sex trafficking in Minnesota is up 84 percent since 2015.)

About that plan. Enbridge took a very narrow view of what it meant to develop the plan “in cooperation with” other parties. It didn’t invite them to meet and discuss what elements the plan should have. (This was P.C., Pre-Covid. In-person meetings were still possible.) Enbridge staff wrote the first draft itself. Interested parties received a copy by email. They had one month to comment. Then the plan was considered done.

Enbridge rejected some requested changes. For instance, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force asked Enbridge to offer human trafficking prevention training to local authorities, in addition to its own workers.

The reply: “Enbridge appreciates this comment but is not typically involved in training local law enforcement in areas other than pipeline safety and, as such, does not propose changes to the Plan in response to this comment.”

No discussion. End of story.

This is a slightly outdated map, but it shows Line 3’s proximity to Native nations. The new Line 3 route now runs through the Fond du Lac Reservation.

The plan had five sections, starting with two-paragraphs on its “Zero Tolerance Policy.”

Here’s Section 1, in its entirety:

Zero Tolerance Policy

At Enbridge, we are guided by a strong set of values: Integrity, Safety and Respect. We hold ourselves and others to these values. All employees and contractors are held to high standards and must act in accordance with the policies outlined in our Statement on Business Conduct and within the law. Enbridge’s Statement on Business Conduct states that we will respect human rights and conduct our business in a socially responsible manner by never tolerating human rights abuses or being complicit in any activities cause or contribute to abuse.

Enbridge will communicate a zero tolerance approach to our contractors by incorporating it into contract language and with all Line 3 Replacement Project workers through onboarding training.

Enbridge’s Human Trafficking Prevention Plan

The Fond du Lac Band wrote Enbridge saying the Zero Tolerance Policy lacked detail. “[I]t is unclear what ‘zero tolerance’ means. Does it include internal investigation, firing, reporting to authorities, or other provisions? Please develop and distribute the policy for comment.”

In response, Enbridge merely added a link to its 34-page Statement on Business Conduct to the plan and essentially told Fond du Lac to look it up themselves.

Here’s the problem. It’s s difficult to look up the meaning of “Zero Tolerance” when the words “Zero Tolerance” don’t appear once in Enbridge’s Statement of Business Conduct.

Fond du Lac deserved a better and more respectful answer.

Enbridge submitted a short and vague Human Trafficking Prevention Plan to the PUC May 5, 2020. Only two-plus pages of the 14-page document were something one might consider an actual plan, the rest was background filler. It reflected the plan’s shallowness and Enbridge’s apparent lack of concern for being called out for an inferior product.

The PUC should have had Zero Tolerance for shoddy plans.

Follow the money

Eight people were arrested at a Line 3 action. Photo: Tom Thompson

Next consider how the state has deployed resources around Line 3.

In 2018, Minnesota started developing the secret “Northern Lights Task Force.” According to Unicorn Riot’s investigative reporting, the Task Force was made up of state and local law enforcement agencies to coordinate planning and resources around the pipeline project. It was “stockpiling equipment and training police in preparation for Line 3 pipeline protests across the state,” the story said.

Clearly addressing protestors was a top priority and requiring a brand new law enforcement structure to respond.

What about human trafficking? What extra effort did the state do to mobilize resources to address the problems associated with a large construction project, everything from increased speeding and traffic accidents to human trafficking?

Hard to say. It doesn’t appear that the state created a parallel structure to the Northern Lights Task Force that would be on the alert to these problems.

The PUC required Enbridge to create a public safety escrow account, run by an independent trustee. Enbridge funds the account and the trustee approves payments. Law enforcement agencies can request reimbursements for such things as responding to Line 3 protests or “to address illegal drug and human trafficking in the area of construction.”

Up to about two weeks ago (the last time Healing Minnesota Stories checked) only one Sheriff’s Department had submitted substantial requests for reimbursement, including bills for gas masks and batons. Nothing was submitted seeking reimbursement for human trafficking prevention or enforcement. (Healing Minnesota Stories has requested to the PUC for an update on reimbursement requests.)

Following the human trafficking sting, Healing Minnesota Stories asked the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) what extra steps the state would be taking on human trafficking prevention and monitoring.

The BCA emailed a non-answer answer: “There are a number of state agencies and organizations working on human trafficking efforts on an ongoing basis, including the Department of Public Safety. From a BCA perspective I can tell you that the BCA has and continues to work to raise awareness about and lead effort to deal with this ongoing issue.”

The email went on to list a number of general things, such as the BCA “participated in a video that is used to raise awareness of the impact of human trafficking.” There was nothing specific to Line 3.

One could infer that they aren’t doing anything extra, but who knows? Maybe they are and keeping it secret because they don’t want to show their cards. We just don’t know.

This is a developing story and updates are expected soon.

For more information on the problem of human trafficking in Minnesota, check out this Feb. 19 video from Your Call Minnesota “Know the signs of sex trafficking.” Lamb and Rep. Kunesh are the panelists.

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