Traverse City Record-Eagle

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September 12, 2007

Nine nabbed in sex sting at local parks

Men allegedly approached cop for illicit sex acts

TRAVERSE CITY -- Nine men await arraignment after being snared in a state police sting that targeted illicit sex acts at local parks.

The suspects allegedly attempted to solicit an undercover officer for sex acts. Police planned to seek felony charges of gross indecency between males for incidents at Meadow Pavilion and Lone Pine trails along Cass and Keystone roads over the weekend, authorities said.

"We chose these parks because of the complaints we received from citizens and park employees, along with the evidence that is left at these parks," said Detective Sgt. Mark Harris, of the state police Traverse City post. "You will find lots of cigarette butts, tissues, condoms ... underwear, bras and other clothes left out there in the woods."

About a dozen state police officers and one county deputy worked the parks from about noon until 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. A plainclothes trooper wandered the woods just off the main trails at the parks where suspects repeatedly approached the officer for sexual encounters, Harris said.

"Usually, it was just a conversation and then the offender would indicate what kind of sexual act they were seeking and that's when we made an arrest," he said. "It was within yards of where families and people that were just out there trying to walk the trails, trying to legitimately use the park for its intended purpose."

Both males and females can be charged with gross indecency and those convicted of felonies are required to register as sex offenders, Harris said.

"This is a five-year felony. This isn't, 'you get a ticket and appear' thing," he said.

Grand Traverse County Undersheriff Nathan Alger said the sheriff's department and county officials also have received numerous complaints about lewd conduct in the parks. The department stepped up patrols at the trail and previously conducted stings, but none was as successful as this weekend's bust, he said.

"We have tried a few things to try and curb it, it just hasn't worked," Alger said.

County Prosecutor Alan Schneider had not reviewed police reports Monday or authorized charges. The alleged offenders could face a range of charges from a misdemeanor disorderly or obscene conduct to gross indecency, depending on the circumstances of the crime, he said.

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