Michael Robert Zeug, 46, of Walnut Grove was convicted in Blue Earth County District Court of agreeing to hire a minor for acts of prostitution and was sentenced Sept. 21 to serve 365 days in jail with 275 days stayed and up to two years of probation, on conditions he serve 90 days in jail, have no access to or use of the Internet without prior approval, have no possession or use of devices capable of accessing the Internet without prior approval, obtain a psychosexual evaluation and follow its recommendations, participate in sex offender treatment programming and comply with sex offender therapy.

According to Paul Gunderson, Brown County assistant attorney, the jail sentence is being staggered in 30-day increments, and if Zeug successfully maintains the conditions set forth by the court he could have the second and third 30-day jail stays waived.

The case stems from an incident in June 2017.

As part of a law enforcement operation designed to curb the online demand for sex with minors, the BLR Drug Task Force in conjunction with the Washington County Human Trafficking Task Force conducted an operation that resulted in the arrest of three individuals, including Zeug.

At the time of the arrest, Zeug was serving as the chief for the Walnut Grove Police Department. 

Known as Operation Guardian Angel, law enforcement officers posted an advertisement on two Web sites, backpage.com and craigslist.com, which Steven Collins, then Redwood County attorney, said are commonly used by individuals looking to engage in commercial sex trafficking and prostitution.

According to the initial complaint, Zeug initiated communication with an undercover individual who was posing as a 17-year-old female. The report added the defendant asked several questions that were sexual in nature and was seen doing multiple laps around the residence and area of the residence once he was given the address in Redwood Falls of the supposed 17-year-old.

The defendant stopped at the decoy house and was arrested.

Initially pleading not guilty, Gunderson said Zeug ultimately pleaded guilty to the gross misdemeanor charge for which he was sentenced.

To avoid potential conflicts of interest, the case was moved out of Redwood County and was ultimately heard in Blue Earth County District Court, with the Brown County attorney’s office handling the prosecution.

In addition to the aforementioned conditions, Zeug must also pay a “prostitution assessment” of $1,000, as well as court fees and surcharges.