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One pedophile traveled to Atlantic City from Oklahoma for sex with two pre-teenage girls. Another had a girl carve his initials into her legs. A third posted a social media video of her raping a youngster she was babysitting.
These were among 21 people busted in a massive state pedophile roundup, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Wednesday.
Opportunities for predators to contact children directly have dramatically increased with remote home learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, Grewal said.
“Reports to our Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force of potential predatory conduct against children are up as much as 50% during the COVID emergency as homebound children, starved for outside contact, spend more time on their devices, and opportunistic sexual predators target them online,” he said.
“As children return to virtual learning this fall, they will be spending even more time online, in many cases without any in-person teacher supervision or peer contact,” Grewal noted. “This may make them even more vulnerable.”
Several arrests in what was dubbed “Operation Screen Capture” stemmed from tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), he said.
Others, however, involved undercover chats in which accused predators tried to meet kids — or adults they thought could get them children to sexually assault.
- State Police and U.S. Homeland Security investigators arrested Aaron Craiger, 34, a registered sex offender from Oklahoma, when they said he showed up at an Atlantic City motel to meet what he thought were two men who’d give him access to their underage daughters – one 12, the other 11 — for sex. The “dads” were, in fact, undercover detectives;
- Jason Berry, 40, of Keansburg, convinced a 14-year-old girl he met on social media to send him “naked pictures of herself engaging in sexual acts,” Grewal said. He also “had the girl carve his initials into her legs, then tricked the girl into revealing her mother’s phone number and sent those images to her mother”;
- Babysitter Alize Tejada, 21, of Newark, videotaped herself sexually abusing a young child, then posted it on social media, the attorney general said.
Craiger (a gas station attendant), Berry (who’s unemployed) and Tejada all remain jailed pending trial on charges of sexually assaulting or attempting to sexually assault children, among other counts.
Eighteen others are charged with child endangerment for having or trafficking child sexual abuse materials – “including, in many cases, child rape videos,” Grewal said.
They include Raymond Radziewicz, of Bloomfield, a 53-year-old former teaching assistant at a child care center who was fired following his arrest last month for having and distributing child porn, Grewal said.
They also include retirees Joseph Benestante, 65, of Bergenfield, and Roy Dantz, 71, of Mount Laurel, as well as a 15-year-old boy from Gloucester County, he said.
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The others who authorities said were arrested and charged with child pornography offenses:
- Michael Gilpin, a 42-year-old pipefitter from Union Beach;
- Brett Warfield, a 21-year-old security guard from Carney’s Point;
- Loic Atse, 18, a college student from Aberdeen;
- Donovan Falconer, a 25-year-old marketing firm employee from Plainsboro;
- Michael Ascough, 39, a retail employee from Pompton Lakes;
- Shawn Daily, 45, a laborer from Browns Mills;
- Christopher Crispino, 45, of Bellmawr, who’s unemployed;
- Dwayne McCormick, 25, of Orange, who’s also unemployed;
- Julian Ceballos, a 31-year-old restaurant from Hamilton in Mercer County;
- Timothy McMahon, 46, a Piscataway electrician;
- Edward Kross, 66, a part-time firefighting instructor from Carteret;
- Henry Ziolkowski, also 66, a surgery technician from Toms River;
- Kevin Carrierri, a 34-year-old chef, also from Toms River;
- Matthew Marzullo, a 20-year-old restaurant food server from Hopatcong.
“These various cases, which involve both teenagers and very young children, show the level of depravity of these predators,” Homeland Security Investigations/Newark Special Agent in Charge Jason Molina said Wednesday.
“Some pursue physical contact initiated via online introductions, in some cases even crossing state lines, while others exclusively pursue these innocents online,” Molina said. “In either case, the psychological damage to children is long-lasting.
“In the face of that, only a very united effort of local, state, and federal law enforcement officials, along with the hypervigilant efforts of parents to monitor their children’s online activity, can be effective to stop them and bring them to justice.”
“More and more, all of us look to the Internet for remote connections because of work, school, or simply to surf the web,” Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella said. “This operation is a reminder that there are individuals who use the internet to traffic sexually explicit images and videos of children.”
“We urge parents to be vigilant about the online activities of their children and warn children that the strangers they meet on popular social media sites, apps and gaming platforms may be out to harm them,” Grewal emphasized.
Among the chat apps parents should be aware of: Kik, Skout, Grindr, Whisper, Omegle, Tinder, Chat Avenue, Chat Roulette, Wishbone, Live.ly, Musical.ly, Paltalk, Yubo, Hot or Not, Down, and Tumblr.
Arrests also have been made involving the gaming apps Fortnite, Minecraft and Discord.
Grewal urged parents to familiarize themselves with these and other apps and warn their children about sharing information with strangers.
He also thanked the various agencies and staff for their work on “Operation Screen Capture,” among them:
- Attorneys, detectives, and staff in the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Cyber Crimes Bureau;
- ICAC Task Force Commander Lt. John Pizzuro of the New Jersey State Police ICAC Unit and the detectives of the ICAC Unit, as well as the New Jersey State Police TEAMS and K-9 Units.
- U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, Newark and Cherry Hill;
- The New Jersey State Parole Board;
- The Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex, Ocean and Sussex county prosecutor’s offices.