AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

South Dakota doc jailed for human trafficking of Georgia teen

A South Dakota doctor was arrested and jailed last week for human trafficking and other crimes for his involvement with a 16-year-old runaway from Georgia.

Dr. Jonathan David Cohen, 36, was arrested after the Georgia teen called 911 following an argument with the doctor, according to the Sioux Falls Police Department. The doctor bought the girl a plane ticket from Georgia to South Dakota after meeting her through a website that promotes itself as a way for women to meet "sugar daddies."

A judge set a $1 million bond for Cohen. In addition to human trafficking, Cohen was also charged with procuring or promoting prostitution, sexual exploitation of a minor and solicitation of a minor, according to police.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the findings of its national investigation of physician misconduct in July. The AJC's Doctors & Sex Abuse series uncovered thousands of cases.

According to detailed report in the Argus Leader, the local prosecutor said during the bond hearing that the doctor had sex with the girl on his desk at work and at his home. The doctor's attorney said the Georgia teen represented herself as 20 years old in her online profile and that she voluntarily came to South Dakota to see Cohen, according to the Argus Leader's coverage. 

Police said Cohen entered the teen's actual birth date, which revealed that she was 16, when he bought the plane ticket.

When the police in South Dakota learned the girl was a runaway from Georgia, they contacted local authorities to arrange for her return, said Sam Clemens, the police department's spokesman. Clemens said the department has been working to find people involved in human trafficking, especially underage people.

"It fit right in with that," he said.

Polly Dean, a South Dakota advocate for trafficking victims, told the AJC that many members of the community were extremely surprised by the case since it involved a local doctor. But Dean said buying sex can be expensive, and it's not rare for upstanding community members to be involved in paying for sex.

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About the Author

Carrie Teegardin is on the investigative team. She is a graduate of Duke University and has won numerous national journalism awards.