TRENTON – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino today announced arrests of 79 child predators and child pornography offenders in “Operation Safety Net,” a nine-month, multi-agency child protection initiative led by the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. Partnering agencies targeted sex offenders who exploited the internet and social media, making arrests in every New Jersey county and deploying, for the first time, a new van equipped as a mobile cyber forensics lab, as well as a new canine trained to sniff out electronic devices, to assist in execution of search warrants.
Those arrested in Operation Safety Net included 10 “hands-on” offenders, including child predators in California and Indiana who allegedly tried to have children transported interstate from New Jersey by adult traffickers so they could have sex with the children; four men in New Jersey who allegedly sought to lure children for sex; a camp counselor who allegedly sexually assaulted a girl, 14, under his supervision; a youth minister who allegedly sent lewd photos of himself to a young girl; and a man, 24, who allegedly used a phone app to record underage girls performing sex acts on themselves. Those arrested also included numerous defendants, ranging in age from 14 to 75, who allegedly amassed and/or distributed large collections of child pornography, including a Trenton police officer, a swimming coach, a piano teacher, an IT professional from Morris County who allegedly had over 138,000 files of suspected child pornography (possibly over one million), a mechanic from Mercer County who allegedly had over 10,000 files of child porn, and three brothers in Cumberland County who allegedly had nearly 5,000 files of child pornography.
The operation was conducted by the ICAC Task Force, which is led by the New Jersey State Police and includes the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), all 21 County Prosecutors’ Offices, and many other state, county and local law enforcement agencies. Attorney General Porrino made the announcement at the Hamilton Tech Center with DCJ Director Elie Honig, Acting State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan, Supervisory Special Agent Craig Vanderhoff of HSI Human Trafficking/Child Exploitation Group, Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner and representatives of other participating agencies. The Division of Criminal Justice exhibited its new cyber forensics van, and the State Police showcased its new electronics detection dog, Mega, both of which contributed greatly to the success of Operation Safety Net.
“The men we arrested lurked in the shadows of the internet and social media, looking for opportunities to sexually assault young children or to view such unspeakable assaults by sharing child pornography,” said Attorney General Porrino. “We set up a wide safety net in this operation to snare these alleged predators and to protect children, which remains our highest priority. With our new mobile forensics lab and electronics-sniffing dog, we’re even better equipped to uncover the evidence that will keep these offenders behind bars, where they cannot threaten or further exploit vulnerable victims.”
“I want to thank all of the many agencies and individuals who participated in this massive, unprecedented and highly collaborative effort to protect our children and communities in New Jersey and elsewhere,” Porrino added.
“We charged 10 men with hands-on predatory conduct against children, including attempted interstate trafficking of children for sex, sexual assault, luring, sending obscene images to a child, or manufacturing child pornography,” said Attorney General Porrino. “These cases highlight the fact that viewing child pornography is part of a continuum of deviant behavior that often leads to or drives other sex crimes.”
“The charges against Castillo reveal a dangerous child predator who went to great lengths in the belief that he was flying two very young girls to California so he could sexually assault them,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Had we not arrested him with our federal and California partners, the allegations indicate he would have continued to seek victims, including children as young as toddlers.”
“We’ve made these proactive child protection investigations a top priority by adding more staff for them at the state level and considerable new resources, including the mobile forensics lab and electronics detection dog,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “There’s no question that by collaborating across all levels of law enforcement and arresting these offenders, we protected innocent children who might otherwise have been sexually abused and exploited. We’ve also ensured that all these men who victimized children – or re-victimized them by viewing child pornography – will face justice.”
“The individuals who share this horrific material will not stop unless they are apprehended and removed from the public,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Acting Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The nine-month investigation conducted by the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and partnering agencies has ensured that children throughout the country will not fall victim to the actions of these depraved individuals. These arrests should put anyone looking to engage in this behavior on notice that law enforcement will be relentless in our efforts to put them behind bars.”
In addition to investigating numerous cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the ICAC Task Force in Operation Safety Net conducted proactive investigations to apprehend offenders by monitoring peer-to-peer file-sharing networks and identifying the IP addresses of individuals sharing child pornography. Detectives also conducted undercover chat investigations on social media platforms, which led to arrests of alleged hands-on offenders and defendants attempting to lure children.
Two proactive investigations initiated by the New Jersey State Police extended beyond New Jersey’s borders – with assistance from other state and federal authorities – to apprehend defendants charged with allegedly attempting to arrange the interstate trafficking of young children for sex:
Eight other defendants were arrested in New Jersey in Operation Safety Net on charges related to various types of alleged “hands-on” conduct, including sexual assault, luring a child, conveying obscene materials to a child, and manufacturing child pornography:
William Esker, 22, of Bayonne, N.J., was charged on Sept. 7 by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office with aggravated criminal sexual contact for allegedly engaging in sexual conduct with a girl, 14, over whom he had direct supervision as a camp counselor. He also is charged with providing obscene material to a child and endangering the welfare of a child.
Donald Beckwith, 34, of Browns Mills, N.J., is charged in Delaware with sexual solicitation of a minor and attempt to commit unlawful sexual contact with a minor. Beckwith, a captain in the Air Force stationed in New Jersey, met a girl, 14, through an online chat group for children and allegedly engaged her in sexual conversations, ultimately asking her to meet him in person. He allegedly met the girl twice in Delaware. The first time, he allegedly reached under her shirt and tried to touch her breast, and the second time he allegedly hugged her and repeatedly asked her to lie on a bed in the back of his vehicle and watch a movie with him. The New Jersey State Police arrested Beckwith on Aug. 16 in an investigation initiated by the Delaware State Police. Detectives allegedly found over 10 nude images of an underage girl on his phone.
Michael DeBlock, 22, of Hopatcong, N.J., a youth minister, was arrested on Oct. 10 and charged by the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office with possession of child pornography and conveying obscene materials to a child. DeBlock allegedly exchanged sexual photos and texts with a girl, 14, including a photo of his penis.
Brandon Morris, 24, of Hammonton, N.J., was arrested on Oct. 17 and charged by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office with manufacturing child pornography, endangering the welfare of a child by sexual conduct, conveying obscene materials to a child, and possession of child pornography. Morris allegedly engaged multiple underage girls in conversations on FaceTime, instructing them to perform sexual acts on themselves, which he recorded.
A 17-year-old student from Bergen County, whose name is not being released due to his juvenile status, was arrested on Aug. 17 and charged by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office with manufacturing, distributing and possessing child pornography, as well as invasion of privacy. The juvenile allegedly had over 1,000 files of suspected child pornography on his electronic devices, including video recordings he allegedly made by hiding his smartphone in a private bathroom in order to record underage boys who were nude, showering or urinating.
Craig Kirschner, 39, of Marlboro, N.J., was arrested on Aug. 21 and charged by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office with luring a child, attempted sexual assault of a minor, and conveying obscene material to a minor. Kirschner allegedly solicited an undercover detective, whom he believed to be a 15-year-old male, to meet for oral sex. The detective was monitoring a mobile app when he encountered Kirschner. After the undercover detective identified himself as a 15-year-old boy, Kirschner allegedly sent him photos of an erect penis, asked him to meet for oral sex, and stated “I can be generous for your trouble.”
Isaac Toney, 40, of Trenton, N.J., was arrested on July 17 by the New Jersey State Police and charged with luring a child. He allegedly used a mobile app to solicit an undercover detective, whom he believed was a 14-year-old male, for oral sex. He was arrested at Veterans Park in Hamilton, Mercer County, where he allegedly was to meet the “boy” for a sexual encounter.
Forty-one defendants are charged with second-degree distribution of child pornography, which carries a sentence of five to 10 years in prison, and 66 defendants are charged with third-degree possession of child pornography, which carries a sentence of three to five years in prison. Out of the 41 charged with distribution, six are charged with distributing 25 items or more, and therefore are subject, if convicted, to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison under the strict child pornography law signed by Governor Christie in August 2013. Out of the 66 defendants charged with possession, 25 are charged with possession of 100 or more items and are subject to a presumption of imprisonment under that law, even if they have no prior criminal record. More of the defendants may face those enhanced charges and penalties once full forensic examinations of their computers and electronic devices are completed.
On July 21, 2017, Governor Christie signed a new law which will take effect Feb. 1, 2018 and will further enhance penalties for possession and distribution of child pornography. The new law expanded the definition of child pornography to include child erotica. In addition, the new law makes it a first-degree crime to distribute 1,000 or more items depicting the sexual exploitation of a child, with a mandatory parole ineligibility period of one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed. The new law also makes it a first degree crime to possess 100,000 or more items of child pornography, and a second-degree crime to possess anywhere between 1,000 and 99,999. Under the new law, videos depicting the sexual exploitation of a child will count more heavily than still images, each counting for 10 images.
Eleven defendants arrested in Operation Safety Net would qualify as second-degree “super-possessors” under the new law to go into effect in 2018. Because it was not in effect when they were arrested, they cannot be charged under the tough new law, but these 11 arrests illustrate how offenders routinely amass huge collections of child pornography, which soon will make them subject to the enhanced penalties:
William Camargo, 48, of Millington, N.J., an IT professional , allegedly had more than 138,000 files of suspected child pornography, and possibly more than one million files (determination awaiting full forensic examinations of computer equipment);
Callen Kapschock, 55, of Hamilton, Mercer County, N.J., a mechanic, allegedly had more than 10,000 files of suspected child pornography;
Md F. Uddin, 43, of Elizabeth, N.J., an engineer, allegedly had more than 5,000 files of suspected child pornography;
Kody Knotts, 22, of Millville, N.J., along with his two brothers immediately below, allegedly had a combined total of nearly 5,000 files of suspected child pornography;
Alexander Knotts, 27, of Millville, N.J.;
Kyle Knotts, 23, of Millville, N.J.;
Laurence Duque, 42, of Dayton, N.J., allegedly had over 4,000 files of suspected child pornography;
Gregory Piszczek, 35, of Woodbridge, N.J., an IT professional, allegedly had over 4,000 files of suspected child pornography;
Kevin Groeger, 63, of Cranford, N.J., a postal worker, allegedly had over 2,000 files of suspected child pornography;
Pasquale “Charles” Albano, 75, of Point Pleasant, N.J., allegedly had over 1,000 files of suspected child pornography; and
Operation Safety Net made extensive use of two key new tools: an electronics detection canine and a mobile forensics van. Both contributed greatly to the success of the operation. As electronic devices become smaller and easier to hide, the importance of dogs trained to detect them increases. There are thumb drives available that are hidden in or disguised as cuff links, bracelets, LEGO blocks, coins and other everyday items. Throughout the operation, the canine was used at State Police and Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) search warrant scenes. The canine was used for a preliminary walk-through and would identify devices and loose electronic storage media not in plain view. The detectives would then thoroughly search the area where that evidence was found to ensure all digital evidence was recovered.
Rapid triage of computers at search sites – also called forensic previewing – is a critical component of child pornography investigations. Such forensic previewing can result in the immediate arrest of individuals who otherwise might be left to continue direct illicit sexual contact with minors, preventing further abuse of victims. The previewing of computers at search sites has often had to occur in close proximity to the alleged perpetrator and often in potentially dangerous environments. As an example, in the last operation, two DCJ detectives were hospitalized after the suspect at the search warrant scene attempted to gain control of one detective’s handgun, resulting in a dangerous struggle. To maintain the integrity of the evidence gathering process, it is important for the forensic examiner to have the proper equipment to work with and the proper environment to work in. For these reasons, DCJ purchased a customized van, equipped with the appropriate desks and electrical and other equipment, which is used on-site for the forensic previewing of computers and computer-related equipment. This van enabled detectives in Operation Safety Net to safely examine suspected devices within the van and conduct more extensive previews at the scene, increasing the number of charges carrying enhanced penalties.
The following 58 additional men were arrested in Operation Safety Net on charges of possession and/or distribution of child pornography:
The charges against the defendants in Operation Safety Net are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Attorney General Porrino commended all of the Operation Safety Net team members and assisting agencies. From the New Jersey State Police Digital Technology Investigation Unit, he thanked Lieutenant John Pizzuro, who is ICAC Commander, Detective Sergeant First Class Keith Young, Detective Sergeant Paul Sciortino, Detective Sergeant Christopher Camm, Detective II Jennifer Amato-Riddle, Detective I Brett Munch, Detective I Joseph Santamaria, Detective Katie Feehan, and Trooper Alaa Musleh. He also thanked the members of the New Jersey State Police TEAMS and K9 Units.
In addition, Attorney General Porrino thanked the members of the DCJ Computer Crimes Unit of the Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau who worked on the operation, including Bureau Chief Michael Monahan; Deputy Bureau Chief Julia Glass; Deputy Attorneys General Layli Khelafa, Alyssa Bloom, Brandy Malfitano, Marie McGovern, John Nicodemo, Joseph Remy, Rachael Weeks, Thomas Huynh, and Brian Faulk; Deputy Chief of Detectives William Fredrick; Lieutenant Jon Powers; Executive Assistant Francine Venceller; and Detectives Scott Donlan, Abraham Aquino, Richard DaSilva, Laura Hurley, Charles Pusloski, Kevin Madore, Carlos Hernandez, and Shawn Gorlin. Porrino also thanked the following member of other DCJ Bureaus: Lieutenant Lisa Shea and Detectives Kimberly Allen, Janet Thai, Matthew Burd, Michael Arduini, Keith Franco, John Neggia, Kahlil McGrady, Garrett Brown, Ho Chul Shin, James Gallo, James Mahady, Sandeep Singh, Sonya Carney, and Suzanna Lopez.
Attorney General Porrino thanked the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Newark and Cherry Hill Offices, the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, the Metropolitan Police Department/FBI Child Exploitation Task Force in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the LAX Task Force, and, in Indiana, the Brownsburg Police Department, Indiana State Police and Hendricks County Prosecutor’s Office.
Attorney General Porrino also thanked the following county and municipal agencies that assisted in Operation Safety Net:
Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office
Bayonne Police Department
Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office
Berkeley Township Police Department
Brick Police Department
Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office
Camden County Prosecutor’s Office
Camden County Sheriff’s Office
Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office
Collingswood Police Department
Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office
Egg Harbor Township Police Department
Essex County Prosecutor’s Office
Galloway Township Police Department
Gloucester City Police Department
Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office
Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office
Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office
Manchester Police Department
Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office
Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office
Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office
Morris County Prosecutor’s Office
Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office
Passaic County Sheriff’s Department
Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office
Pennsauken Police Department
Rahway Police Department
Salem County Prosecutor’s Office
Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office
South River Police Department
Springfield Police Department
Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office
Toms River Police Department
Township of Hamilton Police Department
Union County Prosecutor’s Office
Warren County Prosecutor’s Office
Winslow Township Police Department
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