TRENTON, NJ - New Jersey's Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal along with Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo released a statement reporting that "Operation Home Alone", described as "a multi-agency undercover operation targeting men who allegedly were using social media in an attempt to lure underage girls and boys for sexual activity" resulted in the arrest of 16 alleged predators between April 11 and April 15.
Of those arrested was Michael Mancini, a 36 year-old male from Hawthorne, described as a DJ and also worked for a supermarket. The undercover officer had posed as a 14 year-old girl. Mancini was charged with "Luring (2nd degree), Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree), Attempted Debauching Morals of a Child (3rd degree)." Mancini is being prosecuted by the Division of Criminal Justice. The alleged predators were held in the Bergen County Jail until detention hearings were held, although Mancini was ordered to be detained in the jail pending trail. "The other defendants were released subject to stringent pre-trial monitoring conditions, including at a minimum reporting regularly to Pre-Trial Services staff and prohibitions from using the internet except for work or having any unsupervised contact with children under 18."
Another local, 28 year-old Peter Tuchol Jr., a resident of Waldwick and police officer with the Ridgewood Police Department, was suspended from the Police Department and charged with "Luring (2nd degree), Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree), Attempted Debauching Morals of a Child (3rd degree), Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance (anabolic steroids) (3rd degree), Possession of a Prescription Legend Drug (4th degree), Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (hypodermic needles) (4th degree)." An undercover officer had posed as a 15 year-old girl. Tuchol was arrested in Paramus at the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office on April 15.
The statement said that second-degree charges carry a prison sentence of 5 - 10 years along with a fine of up to $150,000. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of 3 - 5 years and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree charges carry a prison sentence of up to 18 months and a fine of up to $10,000.
"The 16 men we arrested allegedly used social media to stalk victims they believed were vulnerable children who could be sexually exploited. Fortunately, their victims were really undercover officers prepared to put them in handcuffs," said Attorney General Grewal through a statement. "Parents need to know that the profiles of underage girls and boys we posted on social media to catch these offenders could easily have been profiles of their own children, who might also be targeted by predators on chat apps and popular gaming sites. Our message to parents with Operation Home Alone is be on guard. Our message to child predators is law enforcement is working overtime to find you and arrest you."
Two of the men who were arrested were charged with possession of child pornography on electronic devices, one of whom, Luis Gonzalez Palacio from Weehawkin, allegedly had over 13,000 files on his cell phone.
Most of the defendants, according to the statement, were taken into custody when they arrived at an undisclosed location in Bergen county, expecting to meet a potential victim. When they arrived, however, they were met by law enforcement who carried out the arrests and seized evidence to be processed.
"Parents need to be aware of their children’s activities on the internet, and if children appear anxious or evasive when this topic is raised, it may be a red flag," Grewal said. "It is critical that parents talk to their children about social media and chat apps to let them know that the people they encounter may not be who they initially seem to be."
The undercover officers who chatted with the men who were arrested were trained members of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. "The defendants typically initiated contact based on profiles posted on social media platforms by the undercover detectives and agents." Some of the apps which were used included Skout, Kik, Grindr, Tinder, Adam4Adam, and MeetMe. "Once chatting began, the undercover officers clearly identified themselves as underage girls or boys. Despite that information, the defendants allegedly engaged the purported 'children' in conversations about sex and made arrangements to meet the 'children' for sex."
Previous arrests have been made by the ICAC Task Force using other apps including Whisper, Omegle, Chat Avenue, Chat Roulette, Wishbone, Live.ly, Musical.ly, Paltalk, Yubo, Hot or Not, Down, and Tumblr. Games such as Fortnight, Discord, and Mincraft, have also been used and resulted in arrests.
"As law enforcement, we would like nothing more than to be there for every innocent child, awaiting these predators when they arrive. Unfortunately, that is not the case, so we need parents and guardians to remain vigilant and keep the lines of communication open with your children," NJ State Police Colonel Patrick Callahan said. "Familiarize yourselves with the social media sites and gaming platforms that they are using to help protect them from those who would seek to victimize them. Although we cannot be outside every doorstep, this investigation should send a clear message that we will use all means at our disposal to keep our children safe."
"While it is a primary function of law enforcement to protect all of our residents," Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo said, "the focus of this particular initiative was the protection of our most vulnerable – our innocent children."
"Operation Home Alone is a great example of our collaborative efforts to guard children from the ever-present danger of online predators," Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice said through a statement. "We will continue to partner with the State Police, the County Prosecutors, the ICAC Task Force, HSI, the FBI, and law enforcement at all levels to apprehend these sex offenders who exploit the anonymity of social media to prey on those who are most vulnerable."
The sixteen defendants will be prosecuted by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office as well as the NJ Attorney General’s Office.
"This is once again a great example of how interagency cooperation has resulted in removing dangerous individuals from the community," said Brian Michael, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations Newark. "The horrendous activities of these individuals, which could have been carried out on actual children if not for the efforts of law enforcement to pursue and arrest them, show clearly that such predators are being monitored on a continuous basis."
"Operation Home Alone" resulted in the arrests of the following, where the paranthesis represents the fictional child posed by undercover officers:
- Peter Tuchol Jr., 28, of Waldwick, N.J. (Girl, 15) Tuchol has been suspended from his position as a police officer with the Ridgewood Police Department.
- Kevin Roth, 26, Nanuet, N.Y. (Boy, 14) Roth is a teacher at the High School of Computers and Technology in Bronx, N.Y.
- Dariush Ghamarnezhad, 37, of Pomona, N.Y. (Girl, 14) Ghamarnezhad is a dental hygienist.
- Joel Guichardo, 38, of Passaic, N.J. (Girl, 14) Guichardo is a barbershop owner.
- Larry Noel Jr., 43, of Stanhope, N.J. (Boy, 14) Noel is a warehouse worker.
- Shaheen Lariff, 49, of New City, N.Y. (Boy, 15) Lariff is a bank branch office manager.
- Rajan Lama, 33, Woodside, N.Y. (Girl, 14) Lama is a driver for a rideshare company.
- Luis Gonzalez Palacio, 36, of Weehawkin, N.J. (Boy, 14) Gonzalez Palacio is a finance lead for a major internet service provider. Palacio allegedly had more than 13,000 suspected files of child pornography on his phone when he was arrested.
- Roger Arroyo, 37, of Philadelphia, P.A. (Girl, 14) Arroyo is a traveling minister.
- Yosef Kriger, 31, of New City, N.Y. (Girl, 14) Kriger is a pharmaceuticals delivery driver.
- Michael Mancini, 36, of Hawthorne, N.J. (Girl, 14) Mancini is a supermarket employee and DJ.
- Teodoro Alvarez Ortega, 28, of Suffern, N.Y. (Boy, 14) Avarez Ortega is a restaurant server.
- Jacob Smith, 26, of New Rochelle, N.Y. (Girl, 14) Smith is a takeout food delivery driver.
- Jose Martinez, 47, of Fairview, N.J. (Boy, 14) Martinez is a takeout food delivery driver.
- Jason Keizer, 33, of Garfield, N.J. (Girl, 14) Keizer is unemployed and currently awaiting sentencing on a prior child pornography charge filed by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.
- Hareshkum Tailor, 55, Garfield, N.J. (Girl, 14) Tailor is a driver for a rideshare company.
The Attorney General Grewal thanked and commended all of the men and women of the many agencies involved with "Operation Home Alone".
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