June 16, 2009 -- What do a former district attorney, a quadriplegic on a respirator with use of only one finger, and the leader of a high-class prostitution ring that allegedly transported women across state lines for illicit trysts with dozens of well-off Minnesota family men, have in common?
They are, according to police, all the same man.
From his home computer, John St. Marie, 65, and wheelchair bound since contracting polio as a boy, allegedly organized a prostitution ring, which police say, catered to over 30 Minneapolis men. St. Marie is alleged to have arranged travel for out-of-state call girls, some of whom may have been in the U.S. illegally, and oversaw an online community in which the men could "brag about their exploits" and share information about prostitutes to whom they had paid hundreds of dollars, police said.
This shadowy social network composed of middle-aged lawyers, businessmen, bankers and accountants called themselves the Minnesota Nice Guys, and for three years they organized and discussed sex with prostitutes flown in from Florida, according to police.
Police say they monitored group picking up prostitutes from the airport, taking them to expensive sushi dinners, and visiting some of Minneapolis's swankest hotels. In one case, an alleged john was seen leaving a hotel after an illicit rendezvous to attend his son's little league baseball game.
"The cheapest date was $300 an hour," said Sgt. Matt Wente, of the Minneapolis Police Department's Violent Offender Task Force. "Some men would have two- or three-hour appointments. That's $900 to $1,500 to wine and dine these women and have sexual contact."
One woman, a 34-year-old Columbian national, charged $500 an hour, police said.
Some of the men, police said, found St. Marie through a Web site, theeroticreview.com, that allows johns to rate prostitutes. The local men created a "loose-knit group," e-mailing each other directly and receiving weekly messages from St. Marie about prostitutes whose travel from Florida he had organized, police said.
"We have never seen this kind of a network. We've never seen a customer base -- a group of johns -- become organized in the past. It was a social group, like a fishing or hunting club in which johns could extol the virtues of their contacts and brag about their exploits," Wente said.
The Nice Guys, Wente said, lived "double lives." Outwardly, they were pillars of the community, but online and behind closed doors they were members of the ring.
If the police are to be believed, the alleged "ringleader" and "pimp" for the Nice Guys was John St. Marie.
St. Marie spent 28 years as an assistant district attorney in Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis. In his time there he did not prosecute cases, but represented social service agencies, dispensed or revoked foster care licenses, and advocated for the mentally ill and disabled to receive hospitalization.
St. Marie was instrumental in pushing Minneapolis to become one of the first cities in the country to grade sidewalk curbs, making them wheelchair accessible.
After retiring three years ago, police say, he began offering local men the chance to meet with women, for whom he had arranged hotels and flights from Florida to Minneapolis.
For his efforts, police say, St. Marie received free sex from the prostitutes.
It is that allegation, St. Marie's defense attorney says, which upends the police's entire case.
"This is a man stricken with polio at age 8. He is a quadriplegic, capable of moving only his left index finger. When I heard about these allegations, I thought 'they must be joking,'" said St. Marie's lawyer Jim Dahlquist.
"[St. Marie] is currently breathing with a ventilator through a tracheotomy. He was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome in 2003 and has a significant amount of health problems. He has a round-the-clock healthcare assistant in his home," said Dahlquist.
Dahlquist said his client often used a computer with voice recognition technology.
The defense attorney said it was impossible for St. Marie to have been paid in sex, because it is physically impossible for him to have sex.
"He is not able to feed himself or provide himself with liquid. He's not capable of unzipping of his fly let alone some the things they allege," he said.
Police would not elaborate on the mechanics behind St. Marie's alleged payment.
"Apparently certain things function," said Sgt. Wente. "That's all I'm going to say about that."
Police said they were tipped off to the alleged ring a year ago by an anonymous source who e-mailed them to say he believed St. Marie was transporting an illegal immigrant living in Florida to work as a prostitute.
Police found and arrested that one prostitute who agreed to help them trap a customer. Impersonating both the prostitute and the john online allowed cops to glean the names and contact information of more alleged Nice Guys.
In addition to monitoring activity online, police said, they followed alleged johns entering and leaving hotels where prostitutes were believed to be working. In at least one case, cops set up video equipment in a hotel room to catch a john.
Police say they have questioned 10 alleged members of the ring, including St. Marie but have made no arrests yet. St. Marie is the only member of the group to be named publicly.
Police served St. Marie a search warrant at his home last week and removed a computer.
"Ten will be charged pending a complaint," said Wente.
Police said the johns will likely face misdemeanor charges of solicitation, but St. Marie will likely face felony charges of promoting prostitution. He could also be accused of violating the Mann Act, a federal law that prohibits the trafficking of people across state lines.
St. Marie's lawyer said the delayed arrest was unusual.
Police said they could wait to press charges. "He's a quadriplegic," said Wente, "so he's not a flight risk."