What to Know
- 16 men from New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia were arrested in a multi-agency child predator sting, prosecutors said Wednesday
- The arrested include a high school teacher, minister, dental hygienist, police officer, ride-share drivers and others
- Parents are urged to familiarize themselves with the chat apps and warn their children about sharing information with strangers
More than a dozen alleged child predators, including a New York City teacher, a New Jersey cop, a dental hygienist, a minister and two ride-share drivers, have been arrested for allegedly luring children for sex via chat apps, prosecutors said Wednesday.
The arrests in the multi-agency undercover investigation, dubbed "Operation Home Alone," were made over a five-day period in April, authorities said. Thirteen of the 16 suspects were taken into custody after traveling to a home in Bergen County where prosecutors said they expected to find their victims home alone.
Instead, they found undercover officers -- in some cases, the undercover cops who had portrayed the very child they were allegedly targeting for sex.
One suspect was arrested at a shopping mall, another taken into custody at his own home. The police officer accused in the ring was arrested in mid-April at the Bergen County Prosecutor's office. He works in Ridgewood and has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. Others arrested include a finance lead for an internet service provider, a bank branch office manager, a barbershop owner and two takeout food deliverymen, among others.
Electronic devices seized from the defendants are being examined for possible evidence, authorities say. Two of the 16 men are charged with having child porn on their electronic devices; one allegedly had more than 13,000 such files. Another already had been facing sentencing on a prior child porn charge.
Most of the men arrested live in New York, both in the city and in counties including Westchester and Rockland and northern New Jersey. One is from Philadelphia. They range in age from 26 to 55 and allegedly targeted boys and girls who were 14 and 15 years old. Charges range from attempted sex assault on a minor to luring, possession of child pornography, attempted debauching morals of a child and drug-related offenses, authorities said.
In the past, the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has arrested alleged predators using chat apps like Grindr, Tinder, Wishbone, Hot or Not, Tumblr and others to snare children. Arrests have also been made involving gaming apps like Fortnite and Minecraft.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal urged parents Wednesday to familiarize themselves with the apps and warn their children about sharing information with strangers.
"The 16 men we arrested allegedly used social media to stalk victims they believed were vulnerable children who could be sexually exploited," Grewal said in a statement. "Parents need to know that the profiles of underage girls and boys we posted on social media to catch these offenders could easily have been profiles of their own children, who might also be targeted by predators on chat apps and popular gaming sites."
"Our message to parents with Operation Home Alone is be on guard," he added. "Our message to child predators is law enforcement is working overtime to find you and arrest you."