SOMERVILLE, NJ - A six-day Internet sting coordinated by the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office nabbed 19 suspected child predators, all of whom face multiple charges for attempting to lure underage boys and girls for sexual liasons using Internet apps and chat rooms, according to Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson, who was joined at a press conference yesterday by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and officials from the State Police, FBI and other agencies involved in the six-week operation.

All 19 suspects were arrested at two undisclosed locations in Somerset County after they had arrived expecting to meet an underage boy or girl, according to Robertson.

Several of the suspects are from Somerset County; one is from Pennsylvania and two were from Indiana who were in New Jersey for business, according to Robertson.

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“Our children and their online safety is the utmost concern to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. Social media apps allow predators into our homes and as law enforcement, we must do what we can to make it a safer environment,” Robertson said. “We hope that this collaborative operation will be eye-opening for parents. Although 19 online child predators have been arrested, parents must learn the apps that their children are using and the inherent dangers within.”

This is the third multi-agency undercover operation executed this year under the auspices of the New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, according to Grewal, who emphasized that the agency works non-stop to deter online predators. Nearly 60 predators have now been arrested as a result of the ICAC's efforts this year. The other stings were conducted in Bergen and Ocean counties.

“By arresting 59 alleged child predators in just over a year through three undercover operations across New Jersey, including Operation Open Door, we have sent a powerful message to predators that the boy or girl they target on social media may turn out to be the officer who puts them in handcuffs,” Grewal said. “Through these collaborative efforts, we also are delivering a message to parents that we must all do our part to protect children by talking to them and warning them that predators use popular chat apps and gaming platforms to lure children into danger. We have no higher priority than protecting our children.”

“Operation Open Door” was a multi-agency undercover operation that sought individuals using social media applications to lure underage girls and boys for sexual activity, according to Robertson. These “underage children” were actually undercover law enforcement officers who are specially trained members of the (ICAC) Task Force.

The defendants arrested in this operation initiated contact based on profiles posted by the undercover law enforcement officers on social media platforms. Once chatting began, the undercover officers clearly identified themselves as underage girls or boys between the ages of 12 and 14.

Despite that information, the defendants engaged the “children” in conversations about sex and made arrangements to meet the “children” for sex. Most defendants were arrested when they arrived at one of two residences in Somerset County over a six-day period between Oct. 23 and Oct. 28, where they expected to find their victims home alone, according to Robertson

One of the suspects traveled to one of the undercover houses from Pennsylvania.  Two of the defendants lived out-of-state and were in New Jersey for work when they decided to travel to meet with a “child’ for sex. The defendants are variously charged with first-degree promoting prostitution of a child under the age of 18, second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault of a minor, third-degree attempted endangering the welfare by debauching the morals of a child, and third-degree attempt to promote obscene material to a child. The defendants will be prosecuted by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, according to Robertson.

The undercover residences were staffed with dozens of law enforcement officers from around the State, forensic examiners, and attorneys from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office.  Electronic devices were seized from the defendants and examinations of those devices are ongoing. The investigative review of the forensic examinations is a lengthy process and will enable investigators to determine if the devices contain evidence of any prior encounters by the defendants with underage victims, which might constitute additional cases of luring, sexual assault or child endangerment, Robertson said.

The following 19 men were arrested in “Operation Open Door”. They believed that they were communicating with a minor whose age is indicated in the parentheses, Robertson explained. The defendants are charged as indicated and are lodged in the Somerset County Jail pending detention hearings.

Brayan Alvarado, 25 of Middlesex, N.J. (14) Alvarado is a volunteer fireman and driver for an electric company. Charges are 2nd degree Luring and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Jihaad Brown, 23 of Franklin Park, N.J. (14) Brown is retail salesman. Charges are 2nd degree Luring and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Michael Brown, 28 of Edison, N.J. (14) Brown is a mail tester. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault, and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Julio Cubia-Aviles, 27 of West Orange, N.J. (14) Cubia-Aviles is a carpenter. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault, and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Brian Davis, 28 of Somerset, N.J. (14) Davis is a security guard. Charges are 2nd degree Attempted Promotion of Prostitution of a Child, 2nd degree Luring, and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Asif Iqbal, 53 of Mount Holly, N.J. (14) Iqbal is a business owner. Charges are 2nd degree Attempted Promotion of Prostitution of a Child, 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault, and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Juan Lopez, 42 of Passaic, N.J. (14) Lopez is a day laborer. Charges are 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Rafael Martinez-Lezama, 37 of New Brunswick, N.J. (13) Martinez-Lezama is a cook at a bagel shop. Charges are 2nd degree Luring and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Jose Martinez-Mejia, 32 of West New York, N.J. (14) Martinez-Mejia is a day laborer. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault, 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child, and 3rd degree Attempt to Promote Obscene Material to a Child.

Duraikandan Murugan, 40 of Jasper, Indiana (14) Murugan is unemployed. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault, and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Nimeshbha Patel, 48 of Piscataway, N.J. (14) Patel is a retail worker. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Niraj Patel, 46 of Somerset, N.J. (14) Patel is a printer. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Michael Schumacher, 55 of Somerset, N.J. (12) Schumacher is a self-employed home theater installer. Charges are 2nd degree Luring and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Zulfiqer Sekender, 47 of Piscataway, N.J. (14) Sekender is a software engineer. Charges are 2nd degree Luring and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Naveen Thangaraj, 36 of Edison, N.J. (14) Thangaraj is a system engineer. Charges are 2nd degree Luring and 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault.

Alexander Ulikowski, 20 of Branchburg, N.J. (14) Ulikowski is an assistant manager for a hockey store. Charges are 2nd degree Luring and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Conrado Vasquez-Vasquez, 38 of New Brunswick, N.J. (14) Vasquez-Vasquez works at a dry cleaners. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Randal Wise, 42 of Crawford, Indiana (14) Wise is an engineer for a sports television network. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault, 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child and 3rd degree Attempt to Promote Obscene Material to a Child. Wise was previously convicted of sex assault, according to Robertson.

Adam Zeigler, 34 of Carlisle, Pennsylvania (14) Zeigler works for an amusement park. Charges are 2nd degree Luring and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

The N.J. ICAC Task Force is led by the New Jersey State Police and includes the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), all 21 County Prosecutors’ Offices, and many other state and local law enforcement agencies.  The additional agencies that participated in “Operation Open Door” are listed below:

Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office; New Jersey State Police; New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice; Federal Bureau of Investigation Homeland Security Investigations United States Secret Service NJ State Corrections NJ State Parole; Essex County Prosecutor’s Office; Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office; Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office; Morris County Prosecutor’s Office; Union County Prosecutor’s Office; Camden County Prosecutor’s Office; Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office; Franklin Township Police Department; Branchburg Police Department; Verona Police Department; Bayonne Police Department; Wall Police Department; Red Bank Police Department; East Brunswick Police Department Manalapan Police Department; Fairfield Police Department

“Operation Open Door is another great example of law enforcement agencies at all levels collaborating on a priority mission – in this case, protecting children by arresting predators who seek to use social media to lure and sexually exploit them,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend our partners on the ICAC Task Force, particularly the State Police and Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, who coordinated this operation with the Division of Criminal Justice. In addition to these major operations, we work on a daily basis with our law enforcement partners to monitor social media and apprehend offenders who stalk children or share child pornography online.”

Also participating in the press conference at the Prosecutor's Office in Somerville were Lieutenant Colonel Fritz Frage of the New Jersey State Police, FBI Newark Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie and leaders and representatives of the other participating agencies.