TRENTON – Various law enforcement agency representatives expressed the need for parents to take a more active role in monitoring their child’s social media and internet use during a virtual press conference where New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced 21 arrests of alleged child predators.
Those investigations also included cases of sharing child sexual abuse materials online. He said that online threats continue to rise during the pandemic. This prompted his office to warn parents of risks to children as school is about to begin and students are experiencing more screen time.
It was recommended by several of the representatives present for parents to have their children’s phones placed in a charging area during the night to prevent them from using the phone for unsupervised online purposes. An alarming concern noted was an increase in 7, 8 and 9-year old children creating self-produced videos.
Grewal said that during this pandemic, “people are spending more time online. On the one hand homebound children are spending more time on their devices both for virtual learning and for recreation. At the same time predators are also spending more time online and taking advantage of this situation.”
He said apps and game systems were prime hunting grounds for child predators seeking victims. “Gaming platforms with voice and chat apps are particularly attractive for predators seeking to groom victims for exploitation.”
Grewal also noted that children were vulnerable to social media and noted a recent case within the investigation of a predator allegedly soliciting sexual images through Snapchat. “Against this backdrop – and all times for that matter – there is no higher priority for all of us to protect our young people.”
“With today’s announcement we are sending a clear message to all child predators and those who share child sexual abuse materials online that you may think you can hide behind the anonymity of the internet but we will find you and we will arrest you,” Grewal said.
Previously, parents had been told by law enforcement to keep computers in a room where everyone could see what’s on the screen, but with the increased use of phones being used to view videos there is a challenge in younger children taking more self-produced sexually explicit material and sharing it.
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said, “one of the things we try to do in Ocean County with our own social media platforms is to educate parents. I think that’s an important component in making sure that parents know what apps to look for on children’s phones in making sure they stay vigilant.”
“When we post information about Kik or Snapchat or any of these apps the kids are using, one of the areas we get the most comments on from parents is that they didn’t know to look for it. So we try to make sure that the graphics are clear and parents and guardians can look and see what they should be looking for on their children’s phones,” Billhimer added.
“I’m a father as well and we do have a charging station at home and we do have the phones go on the kitchen counter every night. There is no reason why your children should have their phones in their rooms at night. We all have a responsibility here to protect our children and it starts at home,” he said.
The operation contributing to the 21 arrests was led by the Division of Criminal Justice, New Jersey State Police, New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, and nine County Prosecutors’ Offices.
“Reports to our Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force of potential predatory conduct against children are up as much as 50 percent during the COVID emergency as homebound children, starved for outside contact, spend more time on their devices, and opportunistic sexual predators target them online,” said Attorney General Grewal. “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. We will continue to work overtime to arrest child predators and those who participate in the cruel exploitation of children by sharing child sexual abuse materials.”
The ICAC Task Force has previously arrested child predators who used the following chat apps: 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 also urged parents to familiarize themselves with these and other apps and warn their children about sharing information with strangers.
Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police Col. Patrick J. Callahan said, “the State Police will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, and we will be unrelenting in our efforts to keep our children safe, but we cannot do it alone. We urge all parents and guardians to have conversations with your children about the dangers that exist on the internet and to closely monitor their online activity.”
“Our relationship with ICAC has proved to be vital in protecting and safeguarding children from sexual predators. We will continue to collaborate with all of our law enforcement partners to do everything we can to root out those individuals that prey on our children,” Billhimer added.
The 21 defendants arrested between March 18 and July 31 in “Operation Screen Capture” were charged as follows:
- Kevin Carrierri, 34, of Toms River. Chef. Arrested July 10. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Henry Ziolkowski, 66, of Toms River. Surgery technician. Arrested July 10. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Aaron Craiger, 34, of Oklahoma. Gas station attendant. Arrested March 18. Two Counts of Attempted Aggravated Sexual Assault (2nd degree), Distribution of Child Pornography (2nd degree), Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree), Two Counts of Endangering the Welfare of a Child (3rd degree), Two Counts of Attempted Distribution of Marijuana (4th degree), Possession of Marijuana (Disorderly Persons Offense). A registered sex offender, he was arrested on March 18 at a motel in Atlantic City after he allegedly traveled from Oklahoma to meet two men who offered him access to underage girls for sex. In reality, the defendant had communicated with undercover investigators from the New Jersey State Police and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations. One investigator pretended to offer his 12-year-old daughter for sex, and the other, his girlfriend’s 11-year-old daughter. Craiger, who had condoms with him when arrested, also allegedly possessed and distributed child sexual abuse materials.
- Jason Berry, 40, of Keansburg. Unemployed. Arrested June 18. Manufacturing Child Pornography (1st degree), Sexual Assault (2nd degree), Child Abuse (2nd degree), Distribution of Child Pornography (2nd degree), Theft by Extortion (2nd degree), Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree). According to police, he allegedly sexually exploited a 14-year-old girl he met on social media, manipulating her into sending him naked pictures of herself engaging in sexual acts. He allegedly had the girl carve his initials into her legs. He then tricked the girl into revealing her mother’s phone number and sent those images to her mother.
- Alize Tejada, 21, of Newark. Babysitter. Arrested July 15. Aggravated Sexual Assault (1st degree), Manufacturing Child Pornography (1st degree). She allegedly videotaped herself performing a sexual act on “a very child” and posted the video on social media.
- Michael Gilpin, 42, of Union Beach. Pipe fitter. Arrested July 26. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Raymond Radziewicz, 53, of Bloomfield. Former teaching assistant at child care center who was terminated as a result of this arrest. Arrested July 7. Distribution of Child Pornography (2nd degree), Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Brett Warfield, 21, of Carney’s Point. Private security guard. Arrested July 15. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Loic Atse, 18, of Aberdeen. College student. Arrested July 23. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Donovan Falconer, 25, of Plainsboro. Employee of marketing firm. Arrested June 25. Distribution of Child Pornography (2nd degree), Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Michael Ascough, 39, Pompton. Retail employee. Arrested July 5. Distribution of Child Pornography (2nd degree), Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Joseph Benestante, 65, of Bergenfield. Retired. Arrested July 21. Distribution of Child Pornography (2nd degree).
- Shawn Daily, 45, of Browns Mills. Laborer. Arrested June 12. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Roy Dantz, 71, of Mount Laurel. Retired. Arrested June 18. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Christopher Crispino, 45, of Bellmawr. Unemployed. Arrested July 31. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Dwayne McCormick, 25, of Orange. Unemployed. Arrested July 8. Distribution of Child Pornography (2nd degree), Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Juvenile Male, 15, of Gloucester County. Unemployed. Arrested July 22. Distribution of Child Pornography (2nd degree), Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Julian Ceballos, 31, of Hamilton (Mercer County). Restaurant worker. Arrested June 26. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Timothy McMahon, 46, of Piscataway. Electrician. Arrested May 21. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Edward Kross, 66, of Carteret. Part-time firefighting instructor. Arrested May 28. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
- Matthew Marzullo, 20, of Hopatcong. Restaurant food server. Arrested July 1. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
First-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000.
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree charges carry a sentence of three of five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Joining Grewal during the press conference were Director Veronica Allende, New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice; Col. Patrick Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police; Special Agent in Charge Jason Molina, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations; Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Mussella; Burlington County First Assistant Prosecutor Phil Aronow; Camden County Prosecutor Jill Mayer; Essex County Prosecutor Ted Stephens; Gloucester County Prosecutor Christine Hoffman; Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri; Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone; Ocean County Prosecutor Brad Billhimer and Sussex County Prosecutor Francis Koch.