April 24, 2019
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the results of a multi-agency sting operation, called “Operation Home Alone”, which led to the arrests of 16 men who allegedly targeted minors for sexual encounters through social media and smartphone apps.
Grewal and Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Call announced the arrests at a press conference Wednesday.
We're working aggressively to catch these sex offenders. But we can't do it alone. Parents need to familiarize themselves with these apps. Be vigilant about stranger danger at the park & be equally, if not more vigilant about the nightmares lurking in these new cyber playgrounds. pic.twitter.com/dW2JfHuTQ3— AG Gurbir Grewal (@NewJerseyOAG) April 24, 2019
“The 16 men we arrested allegedly used social media to stalk victims they believed were vulnerable children who could be sexually exploited,” Grewal https://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases19/pr20190424a.htmlsaid in a release Wednesday. “Fortunately, their victims were really undercover officers prepared to put them in handcuffs.”
The “children” whom the 16 accused men targeted were actually undercover police officers. The majority of the men arrived at residences in New Jersey, expecting to find the minor they believed they were communicating with. Instead, they were arrested.
The men arrested include a police officer with the Ridgewood Police Department, a high school teacher in the Bronx, a dental hygienist from New York, a barbershop owner in Passaic, and a traveling minister from Philadelphia.
Grewal and New Jersey State Police Colonel Patrick Callahan both explained Wednesday that parents should use this moment as a reminder that it’s a good idea to monitor social media usage.
“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,” Grewal 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.”
Two of the defendants are also charged with allegedly possessing child pornography.