A weeklong sting to uncover child molesters in New Jersey has resulted in the arrest of 24 men—including a firefighter and a police sergeant.
Disclosed by the New Jersey attorney general’s office on Tuesday, Operation Open House targeted men who were using social media to try to lure underage girls and boys for sex. But instead of talking to children, the men were actually chatting with undercover police officers.
Among those arrested was a New Jersey police sergeant, 47-year-old Richard Conte. He was lured to a house expecting to meet a 15-year-old girl after claiming he was 19. He was arrested with condoms in his pocket. Also on the arrested list was a firefighter, nurse and a registered sex offender.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said there was no higher priority than protecting children. “It is a frightening reality that sexual predators are lurking on social media, ready to strike if they find a child who is vulnerable,” Grewal said. “We want child predators to know that we are on social media too—and the child they target may be the undercover officer who puts them in handcuffs. That is the message of Operation Open House.”
Arrests were made over a five-day period, between September 5 and September 9. The arrested men have all been charged with second-degree luring. Five will also face charges of attempting to share obscene materials with a child after they allegedly sent photos of their genitals. Other charges, such as attempted sexual assault of a minor and debauching the morals of a child, are also expected to be made.
Assisting with the sting was Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. Callahan said law officials would continue to “turn the tables” on sex offenders.
“It is disturbing that some of the alleged child predators from this operation held positions of public service and authority, but behind closed doors they went through great lengths to avoid detection online, frequenting social media sites with the sole purpose of targeting unsuspecting children,” he said. “These arrests serve as a sobering reminder that parents should closely monitor their child’s online activity.”
A four-bedroom house in Toms River was the meeting point for undercover officers and the alleged sex offenders. The men were imprisoned at the Ocean County Jail for a week until hearings began last week. All but one—registered sex offender Thomas Blumensteel—have been released on bail. All have been barred from using the internet and having unsupervised contact with children.
Anyone wishing to know more details about the men arrested should visit the attorney general office’s website.