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'Operation Home Alone': 16 Nabbed, Including Ridgewood Officer, Trying To Meet Kids For Sex

Those arrested in "Operation Home Alone." Photo Credit: COURTESY: NJ Attorney General
"Operation Home Alone": 16 men were caught in the sting, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said Wednesday. Photo Credit: COURTESY: NJ Attorney General

A Ridgewood police officer who is accused of arranging a meeting for sex with what he thought was a 15-year-old girl was one of 16 men who were nabbed in a similar undercover sting by state and local authorities, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Wednesday.

Others include a barbershop owner from Passaic, a food delivery driver from Fairview, a supermarket employee/deejay from Hawthorne and two Garfield men – one of them a rideshare company driver and another a convicted sex offender awaiting sentencing on child porn possession charges.

All thought they were communicating with either an underage boy or girl – all of whom were actually undercover agents participating in “Operation Home Alone,” a multi-agency sting targeting men who used social media to try and lure youngsters into sex, Grewal said.

Thirteen of the 16 were arrested when they arrived at a residence in Bergen County, “where they expected to find their victim home alone,” the attorney general said. “Instead, they found law enforcement officers prepared to arrest them and process any evidence seized.”

Several came to the undercover house from New York State and one from Philadelphia expecting to have sex with a 14- or 15-year-old boy or girl, the attorney general said.

One had more than 13,000 child porn files on his phone, he said.

The arrests in "Operation Home Alone" were made over a five-day period from April 11 through April 15, Grewal said during a Wednesday morning news conference in Hackensack with Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo. All will be prosecuted by either Grewal’s or Calo’s staff, he said.

The highest profile in the sting belongs to that of now-suspended Ridgewood Police Officer Peter Tuchol Jr., 28, of Waldwick, who was charged with sexual assault, luring/enticing a child by various means, child endangerment and possession of the drugs and syringe, records show.

A judge last week freed Tuchol with conditions pending further court action.

SEE: Bergen Police Officer Charged With Having Sex Chats With What He Thought Was Girl

Also busted when they sought sex with what they thought was a 14-year-old girl, Grewal said, was:

  • Passaic barbershop owner Joel Guichardo , 38;
  • Michael Mancini , 36, of Hawthorne, a supermarket employee and deejay:
  • Hareshkum Tailor , 55, a rideshare company driver from Garfield;
  • Jason Keizer , 33, also of Garfield, who is awaiting sentencing on a prior child pornography conviction.

Also arrested out of North Jersey was Jose Martinez, a 47-year-old takeout food delivery driver from Fairview, and Luis Gonzalez Palacio of Weehawken, a 36-year-old finance lead for a major Internet service provider – both of whom Grewal said thought were meeting 14-year-old boys.

The undercover law enforcement officers who conducted the undercover chats were specially trained members of the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, said Grewal, a former federal and Bergen County prosecutor.

Chats were initiated after the defendants posted profiles on sites that include Kik, Skout, Grindr, MeetMe, and Adam4Adam, he said.

“Once chatting began, the undercover officers clearly identified themselves as underage girls or boys,” the attorney general said. “Despite that information, the defendants engaged the purported ‘children’ in conversations about sex and made arrangements to meet [them] for sex.”

Dozens of law enforcement officer and evidence technicians staffed the undercover location where the men thought they’d be meeting children, he said.

River Vale police, for example, donated five officers to the effort.

“Electronic devices that were seized from the defendants were previewed at the scene by evidence technicians when defendants gave consent,” Grewal said. “Attorneys and detectives drafted search warrants for other seized digital devices.

“All of the devices were taken to the forensic computer laboratory at the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office for full forensic examinations,” he said. “Those examinations, which are ongoing, will enable investigators to determine if the devices contain evidence of any prior encounters by the defendants with underage victims, which might constitute additional cases of luring, sexual assault or child endangerment.

Like Tuchol, all of the others were at first held in the Bergen County Jail before being released – with the exception of Mancini, who already was awaiting sentencing in a child porn case.

All of those released were subject to “stringent pre-trial monitoring conditions, including at a minimum reporting regularly to Pre-Trial Services staff and prohibitions from using the internet except for work or having any unsupervised contact with children under 18,” Grewal said

It was a sobering experience for those involved – one that also raised a critical concern.

“Although we cannot be outside every doorstep, this investigation should send a clear message that we will use all means at our disposal to keep our children safe,” NJ State Police Col. Patrick Callahan said.

At the same time, he said, online predators continue to proliferate.

“We need parents and guardians to remain vigilant and keep the lines of communication open with your children,” Callahan said. “Familiarize yourselves with the social media sites and gaming platforms that they are using to help protect them from those who would seek to victimize them.”

Grewal agreed.

“Parents need to be aware of their children’s activities on the internet, and if children appear anxious or evasive when this topic is raised, it may be a red flag,” he said. “It is critical that parents talk to their children about social media and chat apps to let them know that the people they encounter may not be who they initially seem to be.”

The others arrested and charged included Rockland residents:

  • Kevin Roth, 26, Nanuet, who teaches at the High School of Computers and Technology in the Bronx, thought he was meeting a 14-year-old boy, authorities said.
  • Shaheen Lariff, 49, a bank branch officer manager from New City who they said thought was meeting a 15-year-old boy;
  • Yosef Kriger, 31, a pharmaceuticals delivery driver also from New City, who authorities said thought was meeting a 14-year-old girl;
  • Dariush Ghamarnezhad, a 37-year-old dental hygienist from Pomona who authorities said planned to meet a 14-year-old girl;
  • Teodoro Alvarez Ortega, a 28-year-old restaurant server from Suffern, who authorities said thought was meeting a 14-year-old boy.

Grewal thanked the state DCJ Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, which he said led and coordinated “Operation Home Alone,” as well as members of Calo’s office – among them, Lt. Jeff Angermeyer, Detective Sgt. Dave Agar, and Detective Sgt. Diane Armbruster. Senior Assistant Prosecutor Brian Sinclair is handling several of the prosecutions.

The attorney general further commended all of the members of the New Jersey Regional ICAC Task Force, as well as those of the New Jersey State Police ICAC Unit and the New Jersey State Police Polygraph Unit.

Also praised were:

  • Upper Saddle River police;
  • Ramsey police;
  • River Vale police;
  • Saddle River police;
  • The Bergen County Regional SWAT Team;
  • The Bergen County Sheriff’s Office K-9 and patrol units.

ICAC Task Force Members:

• U.S. Homeland Security Investigations

• FBI Innocent Images Squad

• Bayonne Police Department

• Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office

• Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office

• Camden County Prosecutor’s Office

• Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office

• Essex County Prosecutor’s Office

• Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office

• Hazlet Township Police Department

• Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office

• Keyport Police Department

• Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office

• Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office

• Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office

• Ocean Township Police Department

• Passaic County Sheriff’s Department

• Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office

• Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office

• Union County Prosecutor’s Office

• Voorhees Township Police Department

• Warren County Prosecutor’s Office

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