Six South Asian-origin men are among 19 men arrested for allegedly being child predators in a sting operation named ‘Operation Open Door’ in New Jersey.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson, Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives John W. Fodor, New Jersey State Police Colonel Patrick J. Callahan and Division of Criminal Justice Director Veronica Allende announced the arrests in a press conference, on Thursday.
Prosecutor Robertson stated that “Operation Open Door” was a multi-agency undercover operation that sought individuals using social media applications to lure underage girls and boys for sexual activity.
These “underage children” were actually undercover law enforcement officers who are specially trained members of the New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.
The defendants arrested in this operation initiated contact based on profiles posted by the undercover law enforcement officers on social media platforms, he said. Once chatting began, the undercover officers clearly identified themselves as underage girls or boys. Despite that information, the defendants engaged the “children” in conversations about sex and made arrangements to meet the “children” for sex.
Most defendants were arrested when they arrived at one of two residences in Somerset County, where they expected to find their victims home alone.
The arrests in “Operation Open Door” were made over a six-day period from October 23 through October 28. One defendant travelled to one of the undercover houses from Pennsylvania. Two of the defendants lived out-of-state and were in New Jersey for work when they decided to travel to meet with a “child’ for sex.
The defendants are variously charged with first-degree promoting prostitution of a child under the age of 18, second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault of a minor, third-degree attempted endangering the welfare by debauching the morals of a child, and third-degree attempt to promote obscene material to a child. The defendants will be prosecuted by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office.
The undercover residences were staffed with dozens of law enforcement officers from around the State, forensic examiners, and attorneys from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. Electronic devices were seized from the defendants and examinations of those devices are ongoing. The investigative review of the forensic examinations is a lengthy process and will enable investigators to determine if the devices contain evidence of any prior encounters by the defendants with underage victims, which might constitute additional cases of luring, sexual assault or child endangerment, according to a press release.
The following are the brief profiles of the six South Asian-origin men e arrested in “Operation Open Door”. The defendants are charged as indicated and were lodged in the Somerset County Jail pending detention hearings.
Asif Iqbal, 53 of Mount Holly, N.J. (14) Iqbal is a business owner. Charges are 2nd degree Attempted Promotion of Prostitution of a Child, 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault, and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
Duraikandan Murugan, 40 of Jasper, Indiana (14) Murugan is unemployed. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault, and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
Nimeshbha Patel, 48 of Piscataway, N.J. (14) Patel is a retail worker. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
Niraj Patel, 46 of Somerset, N.J. (14) Patel is a printer. Charges are 2nd degree Luring, 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
Zulfiqer Sekender, 47 of Piscataway, N.J. (14) Sekender is a software engineer. Charges are 2nd degree Luring and 3rd degree Attempted Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
Naveen Thangaraj, 36 of Edison, N.J. (14) Thangaraj is a system engineer. Charges are 2nd degree Luring and 2nd degree Attempted Sexual Assault.
The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office led the operation.
“By arresting 59 alleged child predators in just over a year through three undercover operations across New Jersey, including Operation Open Door, we have sent a powerful message to predators that the boy or girl they target on social media may turn out to be the officer who puts them in handcuffs,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, in a statement. “Through these collaborative efforts, we also are delivering a message to parents that we must all do our part to protect children by talking to them and warning them that predators use popular chat apps and gaming platforms to lure children into danger. We have no higher priority than protecting our children.”
“Our children and their online safety is the utmost concern to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. Social media apps allow predators into our homes and as law enforcement, we must do what we can to make it a safer environment,” said Prosecutor Robertson. “We hope that this collaborative operation will be eye-opening for parents. Although, 19 online child predators have been arrested, parents must learn the apps that their children are using and the inherent dangers within.”
“The chilling reality that today’s parents must face is that online child predators could be preying on their children without their knowledge, even as they sit together at home, seemingly safe,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “Investigations like “Operation Open Door”, serve as a warning not just for parents, but as a warning that those seeking out underage victims to abuse are themselves being sought out by undercover detectives, who are supported by a collaborative team of law enforcement dedicated to bringing child predators to justice.”