Sixteen men were arrested on Wednesday in New Jersey where a statewide crackdown by multiple state law enforcement agencies on child sexual exploitation was called, "Operation Home Alone."
The men — including a Ridgewood, New Jersey, police officer, a high school teacher at the High School of Computers and Technology in the Bronx, New York, and drivers for Uber and Lyft — were charged with luring and attempted sexual assault for allegedly using popular social media sites to identify children to groom for assault.
The men were really communicating with undercover investigators posing as children as part of a sting operation that New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said highlighted “a new breed” of child predator.
“In the past child predators used to stalk children at playgrounds, at school yards, at shopping malls. Now they lurk on social media,” Grewal said a news conference announcing the charges.
LIVE: Operation Home Alone: More than a dozen arrests in NJ child sex predator sting https://t.co/CsBDivJJum— Eyewitness News (@ABC7NY) April 24, 2019
Prosecutors said the men — ages between 28 to 55 — used social media websites, chat apps and gaming apps including Kik, Skout, Grindr, Tinder, MeetMe, Adam4Adam, Fortnite, Minecraft and Hot or Not to engage with underage boys and girls.
Once chatting began, the undercover officers identified themselves as underage girls or boys that were 14- or 15-years-old. Despite that information, the men allegedly continued the conversations about sex and made arrangements to meet the “children” for sex.
“One of the unfortunate consequences of the internet is the potential opportunities created for the depraved members of our society to prey on vulnerable victims,” said FBI Newark Special Agent-in-Charge Gregory W. Ehrie.
The accused sexual predators, like Police Officer Peter Tuchol Jr., teacher Kevin Roth, traveling minister Roger Arroyo and dental hygienist Dariush Ghamarnezhad, were variously charged with second-degree luring and attempted sexual assault on a minor, third-degree debauching morals of a child. Prosecutor said, if convicted of the second-degree charges, they face between five to 10 years in prison with a fine of up to $150,000.