A well-known St. Louis Park rabbi was charged in a sting operation on Tuesday, July 31. Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, 44, was arrested in February in North St. Paul on the charge of pursuing sex with an underage boy; he was one of 17 charged in the sting that targeted people through online advertisements prior to the Super Bowl.
According to the complaint, Cohen was charged with two felonies: one count to “solicit child or believe to be a child through electronic communication to engage in sexual conduct,” and one count of “engage in electronic communication relating or describing sexual conduct with child.”
A message left for Cohen at his home was not returned. His next court appearance is scheduled to be on Sept. 19. There is no indication in the charges whether he has hired an attorney; he would not have to file for a Ramsey County Public Defender until his first hearing, according to that office.
Cohen was one of 17 men arrested in a sting that began on Jan. 25, 2018 and continued throughout the week of Jan. 29, 2018, according to the Statement of Probable Cause in the charge. It was conducted by the Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force, with assistance from multiple special agents from Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), and the North St. Paul Police Department. Throughout the operation, BCA agents and members of the MNHITF posted online advertisements and profiles of young males and females, indicating they were seeking companionship. They also responded to advertisements placed by others on various websites known to seek illicit sexual relationships.
According to the charge, Cohen responded to the Grindr profile of one of the “boys” which was created by one of the special agents involved. The agent used a stock photo of a person wearing protective riding gear and a helmet riding a bike. The agent did not list an age on the profile.
Cohen arrived at the undercover apartment building at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 1, where he was placed under arrest in the parking lot of the location and transported to the North St. Paul Police Department.
“During his transport, Cohen made an unsolicited remark about his arrest and said, ‘I sort of deserve it,’ the charge stated. “Cohen was subsequently given a Miranda advisory and opted to waive his rights and speak with an investigator. Cohen admitted having a Grindr account that he used to meet men for sexual activity. He further admitted connecting with an underage male with whom he discussed sexual activity and going to meet the male, though he ‘didn’t think much was gonna happen…’ because the young male was sexually inexperienced.”
Cohen had been at the Minneapolis Community Kollel, where he was the director of community outreach. His photo and title had been taken off the website by Wednesday evening. According to Rabbi Avigdor Goldberger, the Kollel’s CEO, no one knew about the incident until the charges were filed. The Kollel administration first learned of Cohen’s arrest and charges from initial media reports earlier this week.
In a statement, the Kollel said: “Yesterday the Minneapolis Community Kollel learned for the first time that Rabbi Aryeh Cohen had been arrested in February of this year and learned for the first time about the facts being alleged related to his arrest. The Kollel is shocked by these developments. During the entire time Rabbi Cohen has been associated with the Kollel, the Kollel has never received a complaint of inappropriate conduct about Rabbi Cohen from anyone associated with the Kollel or outside the Kollel.
“Immediately upon learning of this matter, the Kollel relieved Rabbi Cohen of his duties and he is no longer participating in any Kollel activities.
“The Kollel is deeply concerned about the health and well-being of our students, staff, and broader community and we hope and pray for healing and wellness for all who have been or may be affected during this troubling and difficult time.”
Minnesota Hillel also released a statement on its Facebook page on Wednesday evening, reading in part: “Although Cohen engaged with many of our students over the years, including teaching classes at the Minnesota Hillel building, he was never employed by Minnesota Hillel and has not been affiliated with our Hillel in any capacity in over a year. Minnesota Hillel never received any allegations of misconduct regarding Cohen.”