SOMERVILLE, NJ — A 27-year-old West Orange man was among the 19 alleged child predators arrested this week as part of “Operation Open Door,” a multi-agency undercover operation that sought individuals using social media applications to lure underage girls and boys for sexual activity.

West Orange resident Julio Cubia-Aviles, a carpenter by trade, was arrested on charges of second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault and third-degree attempted endangering the welfare of a child. According to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, Cubia-Aviles believed he was communicating with a 14 year old who was actually an undercover law enforcement officer at the time of his arrest.

The 19 arrests were announced on Thursday by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson, Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives John Fodor, New Jersey State Police Colonel Patrick Callahan and Division of Criminal Justice Director Veronica Allende.

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Robertson explained that the “underage children” involved in the “Operation Open Door” initiative were actually undercover law enforcement officers who are specially trained members of the New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. 

According to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, 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. 

Despite that information, the 19 defendants engaged the “children” in conversations about sex and made arrangements to meet the “children” for sex. According to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, each defendant was arrested over a six-day period from Oct. 23 through Oct. 28 when he or she arrived at one of two residences in Somerset County, where he or she expected to find the victim home alone.

One defendant travelled to one of the undercover houses from Pennsylvania, and 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, according to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office.

In addition to the charges Cubia-Aviles received, the other defendants were also variously charged with first-degree promoting prostitution of a child under the age of 18, 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.

According to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, which will prosecute all defendants, the undercover residences were staffed with dozens of New Jersey-based law enforcement officers, 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.

In a press release issued by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, it was noted that 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.”

Although the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office led the operation, the press release issued stated that it would not have been successful without the collaboration of the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.

The New Jersey 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” included:

  • United States Secret Service
  • NJ State Corrections
  • NJ State Parole 
  • 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

“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,” said Grewal. “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.”

Robertson agreed, stating that 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,” he 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.”

Callahan noted that the “chilling reality” today’s parents must face is that “online child predators could be preying on their children without their knowledge, even as they sit together at home, seemingly safe."

"Investigations like ‘Operation Open Door’ serve as a warning not just for parents, but as a warning that those seeking out underage victims to abuse are themselves being sought out by undercover detectives, who are supported by a collaborative team of law enforcement dedicated to bringing child predators to justice," said Callahan.

Veronica Allende, director of the Division of Criminal Justice, said that “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.

“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,” she said. “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.”

The following defendants, who believed that they were communicating with a minor described in the parentheses, are have also been charged as indicated and were lodged in the Somerset County Jail pending detention hearings.

  • Brayan Alvarado, 25, of Middlesex, NJ (14). Alvarado, a volunteer fireman and driver for an electric company, is charged with second-degree Luring and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Jihaad Brown, 23, of Franklin Park, NJ (14) Brown, retail salesman, is charged with second-degree Luring and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Michael Brown, 28, of Edison, NJ (14) Brown, a mail tester, is charged with second-degree Luring, second-degree Attempted Sexual Assault and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Brian Davis, 28, of Somerset, NJ (14) Davis, a security guard, is charged with second-degree Attempted Promotion of Prostitution of a Child, second-degree Luring and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Asif Iqbal, 53, of Mount Holly, NJ (14) Iqbal, a business owner, is charged with second-degree Attempted Promotion of Prostitution of a Child, second-degree Luring, second-degree Attempted Sexual Assault and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Juan Lopez, 42, of Passaic, NJ (14) Lopez, a day laborer, is charged with second-degree Attempted Sexual Assault and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Rafael Martinez-Lezama, 37, of New Brunswick, NJ (13) Martinez-Lezam, a cook at a bagel shop, is charged with second-degree Luring and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Jose Martinez-Mejia, 32, of West New York, NJ (14) Martinez-Mejia, a day laborer, is charged second-degree Luring, second-degree Attempted Sexual Assault, third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child and third-degree Attempt to Promote Obscene Material to a Child
  • Duraikandan Murugan, 40, of Jasper, Ind. (14) Murugan, unemployed, charged with second-degree Luring, second-degree Attempted Sexual Assault and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Nimeshbha Patel, 48, of Piscataway, NJ (14) Patel, a retail worker, is charged with second-degree Luring, second-degree Attempted Sexual Assault and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child
  • Niraj Patel, 46, of Somerset, NJ (14) Patel, a printer, is charges with second-degree Luring, second-degree Attempted Sexual Assault and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Michael Schumacher, 55, of Somerset, NJ (12) Schumacher, a self-employed home-theater installer, is charged with second-degree Luring and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Zulfiqer Sekender, 47l, of Piscataway, NJ (14) Sekender, a software engineer, is charged with second-degree Luring and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Naveen Thangaraj, 36, of Edison, NJ (14) Thangaraj, a system engineer, is charged with second-degree Luring and second-degree Attempted Sexual Assault.
  • Alexander Ulikowski, 20, of Branchburg, NJ (14) Ulikowski, an assistant manager for a hockey store, is charged with second-degree Luring and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Conrado Vasquez-Vasquez, 38, of New Brunswick, NJ (14) Vasquez-Vasquez, who works at a dry cleaner’s, is charged with second-degree Luring, second-degree Attempted Sexual Assault and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
  • Randal Wise, 42, of Crawford, Ind. (14) Wise, an engineer for a sports television network, is charged with second-degree Luring, second-degree Attempted Sexual Assault, third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child and third-degree Attempt to Promote Obscene Material to a Child
  • Adam Zeigler, 34, of Carlisle, Pa. (14) Zeigler, who works for an amusement park, is charged with second-degree Luring and third-degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Grewal and Robertson made the official announcement of these arrests at the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday along with Allende, Lt. Col. Fritz Frage of the New Jersey State Police, FBI Newark Special Agent in Charge Gregory Ehrie and leaders and representatives of the other participating agencies.

They noted that they are “required by the Rules of Court” to reiterate that these charges are merely an accusation and that the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.