ST. GEORGE — Five men, including a Southern Utah Republican Party official, were arrested Monday and two additional men were arrested Tuesday during a prostitution sting by St. George Police and the Department of Homeland Security.
Blake Cozzens, 28, of Cedar City; Jay Taylor, 44, and Tony Jensen, 47, both of St. George; Michael Low Jr., 30, and Jorge Vallejo, 41, both of Washington City; James Cooper, 61, of Hurricane; and Ryan Blanchard, 24, of Santa Clara, were each charged with class A misdemeanor patronizing a prostitute, according to information filed in 5th District Court by the Washington County Attorney’s Office.
The men responded to an advertisement soliciting sex acts for money placed on backpage.com by a confidential informant, according to the probable cause statements filed by St. George Police in support of the arrests.
Each of the men negotiated sex acts in exchange for money in text messages with the confidential informant, according to court documents, and were arrested after meeting at a prearranged location and paying between $100 and $150 for the sex acts they had discussed.
The men were transported and booked into the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility. As this report publishes, Vallejo remains in police custody while the six other defendants have been released on $1,950 bail pending trial.
Prior to the sting operation, Blake Cozzens held the position of Iron County Republican Party Treasurer.
In a statement posted on Facebook Wednesday, Chair of the Iron County Republican party Andrew Young reported Cozzens had resigned from his position at the Iron County GOP. Young added:
While we as a party leadership don’t condone this kind of behavior, we know that everyone has a right to due process in the law.
Young encouraged the community to “be respectful to Blake (Cozzens) and his family.”
In these type of arrests, the question of whether a prostitution sting is entrapment is invariably raised.
Under Utah law, it is not entrapment unless law enforcement implants the criminal idea in the mind of the defendant. If the defendant had the proclivity or intent to commit the crime with nothing more than the solicitation by law enforcement, entrapment is not a sustainable defense.
However, if law enforcement used improper pressure or persuasion to induce someone to do something they would not normally do, then the defendant may have an entrapment defense.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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