The Sanford Health Surgeon charged with human trafficking and sexually exploiting a 16-year-old runaway from Georgia appeared in court for the first time Thursday afternoon. A judge set Johnathan David Cohen's bail at $1 million.
Thirty-six-year-old Johnathan Cohen's problems began with a 911 call Tuesday night. Police say a 16-year-old girl placed the call after the two got into an argument.
Sioux Falls Police Lt. Michael Colwill said, "Unfortunately, she was in a place she didn't know. She didn't feel like she had any control over what was going on with her and she needed help and the only way she could think of to get that help was to call 911."
That's when police learned that the teen had been staying at his apartment on the 200 block of South Phillips Avenue. They allegedly met on an online dating site called SeekingArrangement.com.
Police say Cohen arranged for the teen to travel from Georgia to Sioux Falls to stay with him on two different occasions; once in September for four days, before returning to Georgia. The most recent visit was on Oct. 3, a day before the girl called police.
Colwill said, "During that first initial time she came to South Dakota in September, she was in a sexual relationship with Mr. Cohen."
At his initial appearance in court, Cohen's defense said the girl misrepresented herself online, claiming she was 20 and in college. When the two argued Tuesday night, Attorney Mike Butler said it was about her wanting to stay and him wanting her to leave. They say she called police because she was worried about his welfare when he left the apartment. Butler says the girl was looking for a 'sugar daddy' and could have placed a call to authorities at any time.
Minnehaha Co. State's Attorney Aaron McGowan argued that Cohen knew her age when he bought her plane tickets. McGowan said in court that Cohen gave the girl several hundred dollars before the girl left the first time and several hundred to go shopping during her most recent visit. He said they would smoke marijuana together and they had sex in both his office and garage.
"Anytime you have a person who is basically coercing someone else to get involved in those prostitution-style activities, then that person can be guilty of human trafficking," Colwill said.
While police say human trafficking isn't rare in Sioux Falls, this isn't the type of trafficking we're used to hearing about.
Cohen has been placed on administrative leave from Sanford Health.
Police say the teen was reported missing in August. Because she is a runaway, they say she is being held at the Juvenile Detention Center until a family member can come get her. Police are investigating whether there are any other victims.