21 Arrested In NJ Statewide Child Porn Bust Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Laveta Brigham

NEW JERSEY – A total of 21 people were busted in an undercover operation called “Operation Screen Capture” that targeted possible offenders who used the coronavirus lockdown as an opportunity to prey on children, the Office of Attorney General announced on Wednesday. The 21 arrested in the sting included 20 […]

NEW JERSEY – A total of 21 people were busted in an undercover operation called “Operation Screen Capture” that targeted possible offenders who used the coronavirus lockdown as an opportunity to prey on children, the Office of Attorney General announced on Wednesday.

The 21 arrested in the sting included 20 men and one woman, all from 10 New Jersey counties: Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Monmouth, Middlesex, Ocean and Sussex.

The COVID-19 pandemic — which shut down schools and led to children spending more time than ever on their laptops, phones and gaming consoles — led to a marked increase in online predators sexually preying on children and teens, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said.

In fact, the hotline run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children noticed a nearly 50 percent increase in tips about online predators when the coronavirus outbreak first began in mid-March, said Grewal.

“It is no coincidence we reacted to an alarming increase; tips went up as much as 50 percent during COVID compared to the same time last year,” said Grewal. “There’s a simple explanation: During this pandemic, people are spending more time online. Homebound children were spending more time on their devices. But at the same time, predators were spending more time online, taking advantage of this situation.”

And Col. Patrick Callahan, the head of the New Jersey State Police said he is worried about the fall.

“With some school districts doing all-remote learning, it’s a concern for us,” said Callahan. “This pandemic has driven children to their electronic devices, and in doing so, we’ve increased the opportunity exponentially for these online predators. The increases we’ve seen since the pandemic began give us great concern.”

There is also a new age group being groomed by online predators: Police are noticing an alarming trend in children in the 7-9 age range making videos and sharing them online on sites such as TikTok. Some of those young children are sought out by predators, who convince the children to create and upload sexually explicit videos.

“We are seeing these younger kids sharing videos that never shared videos before,” said one law enforcement officer.

The three most egregious cases involved an Oklahoma man who police say traveled to New Jersey hoping to meet underage teen girls for sex; a Keansburg man who police say convinced a 14-year-old Louisiana girl to carve his initials into her leg; and a Newark woman who police say performed a sexual act on a toddler she was babysitting and then broadcast a video of that on social media.

Others are accused of sharing child porn videos and photos, including, in many cases, child rape videos.

“These are heinous crimes,” said Grewal. “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. This may make them even more vulnerable. We want parents to be aware of the dangers.”

The three most serious offenses in Operation Screen Capture are:

Aaron Craiger. Craiger, 34, of Oklahoma, a registered sex offender, was arrested 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, he was talking 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.

“In early March as the coronavirus began to ravage New Jersey and the country, he traveled from his home in Oklahoma to New Jersey,” said Grewal.

Jason Berry. Berry, 40, of Keansburg, allegedly sexually exploited a 14-year-old Louisiana 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.

“He exploited a vulnerable 14-year-old girl over a very short period of time, a few weeks, ” said the attorney general. “He groomed and manipulated her to send naked photos of herself in sexual acts, forced her to carve his initials into her legs and then convinced her to send those photos to her mother. He used SnapChat to meet his victim.”

Alize Tejada. Tejada, 21, of Newark allegedly sexually assaulted a very young child. She allegedly videotaped herself performing a sexual act on the child and posted the video on social media.

Here are all 21 people arrested in “Operation Screen Capture. Their ages range from 18 to 71 and they include a daycare worker and a firefighting instructor. They were all taken into police custody between March 18 and July 31:

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).

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).

Alize Tejada, 21, of Newark. Babysitter. Arrested July 15. Aggravated Sexual Assault (1st degree), Manufacturing Child Pornography (1st degree).

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).

Henry Ziolkowski, 66, of Toms River. Surgery technician. Arrested July 10. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).

Kevin Carrierri, 34, of Toms River. Chef. Arrested July 10. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).

Matthew Marzullo, 20, of Hopatcong. Restaurant food server. Arrested July 1. Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).

Want to keep your child safe? Here are five things parents can do right now:

  • Teach your children that the people they encounter online or on their phones may not be who they seem. Kids should be wary of strangers online.

  • “Your 13-year-old may think they are talking to another 13-year-old on a video game app. In reality, they are not,” said a State Police officer.

  • Familiarize yourself with all the popular apps and gaming platforms, such as SnapChat, TikTok and Fortnite, just to name to a few. Know what games and apps your kids are using online.

  • Check the security settings on your kids’ phones and games. Who are your kids chatting with? Can they only talk to friends and family, or are their settings open to the public?

  • Constantly remind your children not to share personal info with strangers on the Internet, or use a screen name that reveals their age or gender, such as SweetSixteen, FortniteFan9 or FashionGirl12. Tell kids they should never take sexual photos of themselves and share them online.

  • Be wary if your child is secretive or protective about their phone. Never let them take their phone into their bedroom alone at night. Establish a family phone charging station and all phones must be docked there at night — not in the child’s bedroom.

“You may think nothing can happen with your children home all day,” said Director Veronica Allende of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. “But notice if your children’s behavior changes with their devices and sending text messages. Are they secretive, withdrawn, angry and dressed?”

If you suspect a child is talking to a predator online, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children hotline number is (800) 843-5678 or online at report.cybertip.org.

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This article originally appeared on the Woodbridge Patch

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