A sweeping sting dubbed “Operation Home Alone” took down 16 alleged child-sex predators in New Jersey, including a Bronx high-school teacher, a Garden State cop and a minister, officials said Wednesday.
Most of the accused creeps traveled to a Bergen County house expecting to have sex with teen boys and girls they thought they’d been chatting up online — but found only cops waiting for them, prosecutors said.
“Fortunately, their victims were really undercover officers prepared to put them in handcuffs,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in announcing the busts, all of which took place over five days, from April 11 through April 15.
Posing as kids between 13 and 15, cops created profiles on popular social media and hook-up apps like Kik, Tinder and Grindr, then simply sat back and waited for the predators to engage with them, officials said.
Some of the alleged pervs were authorities figures, including now-suspended Ridgewood, NJ cop Peter Tuchol Jr., 28, and Kevin Roth, a 26-year-old teacher at the High School of Computers and Technology in The Bronx, each charged with luring and attempted sexual assault on a minor, officials said.
Then there’s Roger Arroyo, a 37-year-old minister who traveled all the way from Philadelphia and wound up arrested for luring, attempted debauching the morals of a child and attempted criminal sexual contact.
Luis Gonzalez Palacio, a 36-year-old internet service provider worker from Weehawken, had more than 13,000 files of suspected child pornography on his phone when he was snared, authorities said.
And Jason Keizer, a 33-year-old Garfield man, was already awaiting sentencing on a prior Bergen County child pornography conviction when he was arrested, officials said.
What these five men and their 11 fellow defendants — among them a dental hygienist, a barbershop owner and five ride-share or delivery drivers — had in common, authorities said, was their drive to prey on teens.
“These predators traveled near and far, each hoping to find their victims vulnerable,” said Veronica Allende, director of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice, one of nearly 30 law-enforcement bodies involved in the case.
Officials said the methods of the alleged predators serves as a warning to parents to keep an eye on who their kids are talking to online.
“It highlights that there is a new breed of child predators now,” said Grewal, whose office added that similar busts in the past have snagged deviants targeting kids playing popular online video games like Fortnite and Minecraft.
Added Colonel Pat Callahan of the New Jersey State Police, “It is a totally different ballgame…with the advent of the internet,” from the days of sickos luring youngsters in person with promises of a puppy or candy.
But officials said their dedication to keep child-predators off the streets will extend to the web.
“We will strip them of their anonymity, we will unmask them,” said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Greg Ehrie. “And we will arrest them.”