Men arrested in Internet sex stings when they travel to the Clinton area for the purpose of having sex with minors will face felony charges starting next month, according to a change in state law.

Federally, the charge of attempted enticement of a minor carries about a 10-year prison sentence on conviction, usually with a requirement for offenders to serve a minimum of at least 85 percent of the term. But currently, Iowa code classifies the charge as an aggravated misdemeanor, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

Starting July 1, state prosecutors will be able to charge the offense as a felony, with a punishment of up to five years or 10 years behind bars upon conviction, depending on the offense. But prison sentences for the charges still won’t carry a mandatory minimum.

“The penalty still is small compared to what the federal penalty is,” said Assistant County Attorney Ross Barlow. “It’s better, but there is still a significant difference.”

According to the change in Iowa law, the attempted enticement offense can be prosecuted as a Class D felony when an individual, without authority and with the intent to commit an illegal sex act upon or sexual exploitation of a minor under the age of 16, entices or attempts to entice a person reasonably believed to be under the age of 16.

The offense can be prosecuted as a Class C felony when the victim is reasonably believed to be under the age of 13.

The Clinton County Sheriff’s Office and DeWitt Police Department have made nine arrests related to attempted enticement of a minor as part of the agencies’ work with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. DeWitt has been involved with the task force since 2006, and the sheriff’s office since 2007.

Read the entire story in today's Clinton Herald.