Over a period spanning April 11 to April 15, several regional law enforcement agencies conducted a child predator sting, dubbed “Operation Home Alone,” and netted 16 men who were allegedly using dating and texting apps in an attempt to lure underage children for sexual activity, according to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
What those 16 men didn’t know was that the “children” they allegedly tried to initiate sexual contact with were, in fact, undercover law enforcement officers specially trained by the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.
A 36-year-old Weehawken resident, Luis Gonzalez Palacio, was among the 16 arrested in the sting. According to prosecutors, Palacio is a finance manager for a major internet service provider. He was charged by officers for allegedly possessing an electronic device with more than 13,000 suspected child pornography files, which he had when he was arrested.
According to court documents released by the Attorney General, Gonzalez Palacio allegedly opened a Grindr account under the name “fwb bf friends” and conversed with an undercover officer posing as a 14-year-old boy.
“The individual identified himself as a 28-year-old male,” the police report charged. “The ‘child’ stated that he was 14 years old, and asked ‘is that okay,’ to which the defendant stated ‘Yes.’”
After engaging in sexual comments in which Gonzalez Palacio allegedly solicited oral sex, officers charged that he made arrangements to meet the child at a predetermined location in Bergen County, where he was arrested at an undercover residence.
Gonzalez Palacio was charged with arranging to meet a 14-year-old child, with the intent to engage in sexual intercourse with that child. He was also charged with possession of child pornography.
“The 16 men we arrested allegedly used social media to stalk victims they believed were vulnerable children who could be sexually exploited,” Grewal said. “Fortunately, their victims were really undercover officers prepared to put them in handcuffs. Parents need to know that the profiles of underage girls and boys we posted on social media to catch the offenders could easily have been profiles of their own children, who might also be targeted by predators on chat apps and popular gaming sites.”
Grewal said that the operation was meant to send a message to anyone considering soliciting sexual activity with children online. The operation can also serve as a wake-up call to parents, whose children may be on the same chatting platforms used in the undercover operation.
“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 chat apps to let them know that the people they encounter may not be who they seem to be.”
The sting operation took place in a Bergen County residence, which 13 of the defendants allegedly visited expecting to find an underage victim home alone. Instead, they arrived at an undercover residence staffed with dozens of law enforcement officers and evidence technicians, and were promptly arrested. The other three defendants were arrested at other locations.
After announcing the arrests, court documents on all 16 cases were released by the Attorney General’s Office.
All walks of life
The other men arrested in the sting came from a variety of backgrounds and locations. Those being prosecuted include a Ridgewood police officer, a Bronx high school teacher, drivers for two ride share companies, a minister, a bank branch office manager, a barbershop owner, a dental hygienist, two takeout food deliverymen and others.
The one thing they all had in common? Allegedly using social platforms including Kik, Skout, Grindr, Tinder, MeetMe, and Adam4Adam to have conversations with undercover officers posing as underage children.
Seven of the defendants are from New York State, and one defendant is from Philadelphia. The other eight are from various places in New Jersey, Grewal said.
All of the defendants, who are being prosecuted by either the Attorney General’s Office or the state Division of Criminal Justice, face various charges of second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault on a minor, and third-degree attempted debauching the morals of a child.
Two men face third-degree charges of attempted showing obscene material to a minor, for allegedly sending photographs of their genitals to undercover detectives. Two of the men were charged with allegedly having child pornography on their electronic devices.
Attorneys were stationed at the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, while the defendants were lodged at the Bergen County Jail. Some were released with stringent pretrial monitoring conditions, but others will be held in jail until detention hearings took place.
The list of others arrested includes:
- Peter Tuchol Jr., a 28-year-old Waldwick resident who was suspended from his position as a police officer with the Ridgewood Police Department. Tuchol was also allegedly in possession of a prescription legend drug, drug paraphernalia, and anabolic steroids.
- Kevin Roth, a 26-year-old Nanuet, N.Y. resident who is a teacher at a Bronx High School.
- Dariush Ghamarnezhad, a 37-year-old Pomona, N.Y. resident who is a dental hygienist.
- Joel Guichardo, a 38-year-old Passaic resident who is a barbershop owner.
- Larry Noel, Jr., a 43-year-old Stanhope resident who is a warehouse worker.
- Shaheen Lariff, a 49-year-old New City, N.Y. resident who is a bank branch office manager.
- Rajan Lama, a 33-year-old Woodside, N.Y. resident who drives for a ride share company.
- Roger Arroyo, a 37-year-old Philadelphia resident who is a traveling minister.
- Yosef Kriger, a 31-year-old New City, N.Y. resident, who is a pharmaceuticals delivery driver.
- Michael Mancini, a 36-year-old Hawthorne resident who is a supermarket employee and a DJ.
- Teodoro Alvarez Ortega, a 28-year-old Suffern, N.Y. resident who is a restaurant server.
- Jacob Smith, a 26-year-old New Rochelle, N.Y. resident who is a takeout delivery driver.
- Jose Martinez, a 47-year-old Fairview resident who is a takeout delivery driver.
- Jason Keizer, an unemployed 33-year-old Garfield resident
- Hareshkum Tailor, a 55-year-old Garfield resident who is a driver for a ride share company.
The charges against defendants in “Operation Home Alone” are merely accusations, and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because they are indictable offenses, they will be presented to a grand jury for potential indictment.