The U.S. Attorney’s Office continued its streak of successfully prosecuting people caught in the Sturgis rally sex stings on Friday when a jury convicted one of the arrestees.
Andries Snyman, 43, was found guilty of using the internet to try and entice a minor into having sex in 2016. He faces 10 years to life in prison, the consequence of the electronic messages he exchanged with a law enforcement officer posing as a 14-year-old boy.
Snyman showed no reaction to the verdict, which came Friday afternoon, on the fourth day of a trial that at times became tense.
The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Collins, emphasized that Snyman began talking about sexual activity with what he believed to be a boy just minutes after they met on a social media app designed for gay men. Snyman, she said, asked inappropriate questions about the boy’s body, then persuaded him to meet in person that evening of Aug. 5, 2016.
A South African national working at a ranch in Isabel, Snyman was arrested in the parking lot of Rapid City’s Stevens High School, where he and the boy agreed to meet.
“This was all about sex,” Collins told jurors in her closing argument Thursday, “simple case."
Defense attorney Tom Diggins responded that Snyman had no intention of having sex with the boy. He instead wanted to tell the boy about predatory men online and the difficulties of being gay, especially in a place that didn’t have a lot of resources to support sexual minorities.
“His intent was truly to offer guidance and help,” Diggins said in closing, highlighting messages in which Snyman asked why the boy was on an adult sex/dating site and talked about “explaining” matters to him.
Someone with the goal of enticing wouldn’t use this language, Diggins told the seven women and five men on the jury. He said Snyman had no history of improper behavior toward children, and his electronic devices seized by police didn't contain any photos or messages with minors.
Earlier Thursday, the defense called an expert witness who testified about the unique stress suffered by sexual minorities in the country and the importance of social support to combat this stress.
The prosecution, which also presented an expert witness in rebuttal, said Snyman’s supposed method of helping the boy wasn’t proper and that he was using the gay community as a “shield.”
Snyman was only the third person to go to trial among the 36 men caught in the Sturgis rally sex stings, an annual undercover operation established in 2013. The two other men were found guilty at trial, and 21 have pleaded guilty under deals with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In an interview after the verdict was announced, Collins said she felt “relieved” and “happy.” The amount of time it took the jury to conclude the case, she said, was an indication that reaching a unanimous verdict didn’t come easy.
The case was handed to the jury for deliberation before 3:30 p.m. Thursday, and it reached a verdict around 1 p.m. Friday.
The courtroom victories in the rally cases show that these investigations are important and that “members of the community expect law enforcement to conduct these operations to keep kids safe,” said Special Agent Brent Gromer, commander of the South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which conducts the rally stings to catch people wanting to engage in sexual activity with minors.
The task force, Collins said, plans to make some changes in the way it conducts the stings based on insights gleaned from the trial. Details on the changes were not immediately available.
Collins said two other rally arrestees from 2016, Noah Schottenstein and Joel Zupnik, are preparing to go to trial next year.
The ICAC task force includes personnel from the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, Rapid City Police Department, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The Federal Public Defender’s Office, which represented Snyman, declined to comment on the verdict.
Snyman is scheduled for sentencing April 19 before U.S. District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken.
Dec. 10, 2017: Updated story to include task force's plans to make some changes in the way it conducts the rally sex stings.