The Potluck

Two Line 3 workers arrested in human trafficking sting

By: - June 29, 2021 11:21 am

An Enbridge sign in St. Ignace, Michigan. The company is building the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Photo by Susan J. Demas/Michigan Advance.

Two men working on Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota were arrested during a human trafficking sting in Beltrami County in late June, the Bemidji Pioneer reported.

The men, who worked for a subcontractor on the project, were fired immediately, Enbridge said in a statement to the Pioneer.

“Enbridge and our contractors have zero tolerance for illegal and exploitative actions,” the statement said. “We recognize that human trafficking is an ongoing issue in our community and in society as a whole, and we encourage everyone to join us in our commitment to working together with law enforcement and government agencies to bring awareness to the victims of these crimes, and end this illegal and exploitive behavior.”

In February, two other Line 3 workers were arrested in a human trafficking sting in Itasca County. Shelters along the pipeline route have also reported increased calls for service since construction started in December.

For years, pipeline opponents have raised concerns that the project would lead to an increase in human trafficking and violence — especially against Native American women — which Enbridge has denied. Research shows that activity by extractive industries, like oil and mining, is linked to increased crime and human trafficking.

In a statement, state Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, said she found it “ironic” that she and other members of the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women task force learned about the arrests during a task force meeting.

“Enbridge will tout zero tolerance for illegal behavior and terminate their workers — but what do you expect when you flood rural communities with 4,000 men, flush with cash, time on their hands? They were warned,” Kunesh said.

State permits required Enbridge to develop a human trafficking prevention plan, with input from government officials and tribes in Minnesota. Enbridge says all workers go through mandatory human trafficking awareness training.

In addition to the two Line 3 workers, four men not affiliated with the project were arrested after replying to an ad “on a sex advertisement website,” according to a news release from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Investigators arrested them when they arrived at an arranged meeting place.

The BCA Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force led the operation June 25-26 in partnership with the Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking Task Force, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office and the Bemidji Police Department. A number of other agencies also contributed to the operation.

Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline is roughly 60% complete and expected to be operational by the end of 2021, after more than six years of permitting, review and litigation.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.