New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Aug. 26 announced the arrests of 21 individuals who are charged with sexually exploiting children online.
The 19 men, one woman, and one juvenile male were arrested in Operation Screen Capture, a collaborative operation launched in response to a dramatic increase in reports of potential threats to children from online predators during the COVID pandemic.
Among them is Matthew Marzullo, 20, of Hopatcong, N.J., a restaurant food server who was arrested July 1 for Possession of Child Pornography (3rd degree).
Three defendants – two men and one woman – are charged with sexually assaulting or attempting to sexually assault children. Eighteen are charged with endangering the welfare of children for possession and/or distribution of child sexual abuse materials, including, in many cases, child rape videos.
Cyber tips to the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force about potential threats to children online have increased up to 50 percent in New Jersey since the COVID emergency began in March, compared to the same time frame last year.
Operation Screen Capture was led by the Division of Criminal Justice, New Jersey State Police, ICAC Task Force, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, and prosecutor’s offices from Sussex, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex, and Ocean Counties.
The New Jersey State Parole Board assisted with arrests and search warrants. The arrests were made between March 18 and July 31.
“Reports to our Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force of potential predatory conduct against children are up as much as 50 percent during the COVID emergency as homebound children, starved for outside contact, spend more time on their devices, and opportunistic sexual predators target them online,” said Grewal. “We urge parents to be vigilant about the online activities of their children and warn children that the strangers they meet on popular social media sites, apps and gaming platforms may be out to harm them.”
In past cases, the task force has arrested child predators who used the following chat apps: Kik, Skout, Grindr, Whisper, Omegle, Tinder, Chat Avenue, Chat Roulette, Wishbone, Live.ly, Musical.ly, Paltalk, Yubo, Hot or Not, Down, and Tumblr. Arrests also have been made involving the gaming apps Fortnite, Minecraft, and Discord. Grewal urged parents to familiarize themselves with these and other apps and warn their children about sharing information with strangers.
“As children return to virtual learning this fall, they will be spending even more time online, in many cases without any in-person teacher supervision or peer contact,” Attorney General Grewal added. “This may make them even more vulnerable. We want parents to be aware of the dangers — and, as we highlighted in a recent virtual town hall with the State Police and Department of Children and Families, we want everyone to know that there are resources to help children who are struggling with social isolation or who may be victims of trauma or abuse.”
First-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree charges carry a sentence of three of five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
● Report suspicion of child sexual exploitation in New Jersey to NJ Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Tipline -- 888-648-6001
● Report suspicion of child sexual exploitation to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tipline: 1-800-843-5618
● To be connected with behavioral health services near you, call NJ Mental Health cares -- 1-866-202-4357
● A confidential and anonymous helpline for New Jersey youth and young adults, call 2nd Floor Support for Youth -- 1-888-222-2228
● To access emotional and behavioral health services tor children and teens, call Children’s System of care -- 1-877-652-7624
● If you or someone you know is in danger, call Domestic Violence Hotline -- 1-800-572-7233
● If you are in crisis and need support, call Crisis Text Line -- Text “NJ” to 741141