16 Men Were Arrested in 2019 Undercover Operation Targeting Child Predators on Social Media
For Further Information:
TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck announced that a man was sentenced to prison today for attempting to lure a 14-year-old girl he met on social media for a sexual encounter. The “girl” in reality was an undercover detective participating in “Operation Home Alone,” a multi-agency undercover operation in April 2019 that targeted individuals who allegedly were using social media to lure underage girls and boys for sex.
Jacob J. Smith, 28, of New Rochelle, N.Y., was sentenced today to four years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Carol Novey Catuogno in Bergen County. Smith pleaded guilty on Oct. 19, 2020 to a charge of second-degree luring. He will be required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law and will be subject to parole supervision for life.
Deputy Attorney General Danielle Counts prosecuted Smith and represented the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Cyber Crimes Bureau at the sentencing hearing. Operation Home Alone was led by the Division of Criminal Justice, Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, New Jersey State Police, and New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.
Smith was arrested on April 13, 2019 in Operation Home Alone. An undercover detective encountered him the prior week on social media. Smith, who believed the undercover detective was a 14-year-old girl, asked the “girl” to meet him for sexual activity. During the exchanges, Smith discussed sexual acts they would perform when they met and sent sexually explicit photos and videos of himself. He was arrested when he arrived at the location in Bergen County where he had arranged to meet the “girl.”
“This prison sentence sends a strong message that we will aggressively prosecute child predators,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “The COVID emergency led to a sharp increase in reported online threats to children, and law enforcement is responding to keep our kids safe. I urge parents to do their part by talking to their children about the dangers posed by predators on social media.”
“We want online predators like Smith to know that the vulnerable child they seek to lure on social media may turn out to be a law enforcement officer,” said Director Lyndsay V. Ruotolo of the Division of Criminal Justice. “New Jersey has tough laws targeting child predators and those who download and distribute child sexual abuse material. We will continue to make strong use of those laws to put such offenders in prison.”
In 2018 and 2019, the Division of Criminal Justice, New Jersey State Police, and members of the New Jersey ICAC Task Force, including federal, state, county, and local law enforcement partners, arrested 59 alleged child predators in three major undercover operations in Ocean, Bergen, and Somerset counties, including 16 alleged predators arrested in Operation Home Alone.
On Aug. 26, 2020, the Attorney General’s Office announced 21 arrests in “Operation Screen Capture,” a joint operation targeting alleged child predators and offenders who possessed and/or distributed child sexual abuse material. Operation Screen Capture was launched in response to a large increase in reports of potential online threats to children during the COVID pandemic. Earlier this month, on July 13, the Attorney General’s Office announced arrests of 31 additional individuals charged with sexually exploiting children online as a result of “Operation 24/7,” another collaborative operation responding to the continued spike in potential threats to children from online predators during the pandemic.
In addition to investigating cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, members of the New Jersey State Police ICAC Unit, the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Cyber Crimes Bureau, and the New Jersey ICAC Task Force routinely conduct undercover chat investigations on social media platforms leading to arrests of hands-on offenders and defendants attempting to lure children. They also conduct proactive investigations to apprehend offenders by monitoring peer-to-peer file-sharing networks and identifying the IP addresses of individuals sharing child sexual abuse material.
Acting Attorney General Bruck and Director Ruotolo urge anyone with information about the distribution of child sexual abuse material on the internet – or about suspected improper contact by unknown persons communicating with children via the internet or possible exploitation or sexual abuse of children – to please contact the New Jersey ICAC Task Force Tipline at 888-648-6007.
Defense Attorney: Assistant Deputy Public Defender Jessica Kitzman, Bergen County.