2 men charged with felonies after first trafficking sting around Marinette

Generic police lights. (WLUK/Amanda Cartwright)

MARINETTE (WLUK) -- State investigators have taken their fight against human trafficking and child sex crimes to the Marinette-Menominee area.

Two people are charged with felonies after a recent sting, but investigators say there is still plenty of work to do.

The state's first undercover human trafficking operation around Marinette shows children in rural areas aren't immune to the crime, according to special agent Carl Waterstreet.

"We didn't know what to expect because we had never done one up there before," said Waterstreet. "Yet, when we were on these classified websites and social media sites, we could see that there was a problem."

Waterstreet is with the Department of Criminal Investigation, which is under the state's Department of Justice. He says on Oct. 21, four DCI agents posted ads and responded to ads on social media apps and websites like Craigslist and Backpage.

"Marinette doesn't have the resources that a lot of these agencies have because they're so thin staffing wise, so we try to direct our resources with the Department of Justice to those type of agencies," said Waterstreet.

He says agents exchanged messages with more than 150 people over 12 hours, but only two arrests were made.

Charles Deal of Little Chute and Gerard Ratajczak of Luxemburg are both charged with two felonies. They face felony charges of using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime. Ratajczak is also charged with child enticement-sexual contact, and Deal is also charged with soliciting a child for prostitution.

Waterstreet says many of the people responding to ads knew about recent sting operations in other parts of the area.

"We consider that a success because the word is out that law enforcement isn't going to tolerate this," he said.

Waterstreet says the FBI, Marinette City Police Department, Marinette Co. Sheriff's Office, Menominee Police Department and Eye Heart World Human Trafficking Advocacy Center all were part of the October operation, entitled Operation Knightmare.

Lt. Jim Valley of the Brown Co. Sheriff's Office has worked on similar operations in the Green Bay area.

"This is a difficult thing for everybody to grasp, whether it's in our community or not in our community, and maybe we're not seeing individuals just right up on the street participating in some type of commercial sex act," said Valley. "A lot of the stuff is underground."

Valley says the signs may be difficult to spot, but law enforcement wants to hear about anything out of the ordinary.

"Do they see a lot of activity that may not be related to drug activity in the area? Maybe at certain hotels, are they seeing people coming in and out of the room, multiple traffic?" he said.

DCI, Brown County and other law enforcement plan to work on new educational materials about human trafficking in the year ahead. The goal is to teach business owners and hotels about the signs to look for.

Valley also says Brown Co. will add another investigator next year to its Internet Crimes Against Children task force.

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