Five men from Rockland and one from Westchester – including a high school teacher and a bank manager – were among 16 defendants busted in New Jersey after they’d arranged meetings for sex with what they thought were underage boys and girls, authorities announced Wednesday.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal identified the six as:
- Kevin Roth , 26, Nanuet, who teaches at the High School of Computers and Technology in the Bronx and thought was meeting a 14-year-old boy, Grewal said;
- Shaheen Lariff , 49, a bank branch officer manager from New City who the attorney general said thought was meeting a 15-year-old boy;
- Yosef Kriger , 31, a pharmaceuticals delivery driver also from New City, who he 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 they said thought was meeting a 14-year-old boy;
- Jacob Smith, 26, of New Rochelle, a takeout food delivery driver who they said thought was meeting a 14-year-old girl.
All thought they were communicating with either an underage teen – each of whom actually was an undercover agent 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, 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.
The highest New Jersey 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.
Also busted when they sought sex with what they thought was a 14-year-old girl were:
- 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, a 36-year-old finance lead for a major Internet service provider – both of whom thought they 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, Grewal said.
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 house where the men thought they’d be meeting children, he said.
“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.”
“Parents need to be aware of their children’s activities on the Internet," he said, "and if children appear anxious or evasive when this topic is raised, it may be a red flag.
"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 attorney general said.
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