Four Indian-American men are among 19 alleged child sex predators arrested in New Jersey’s Somerset County in an ‘Operation Open Door,’ an undercover sting investigation. The arrests were announced on Oct. 31 by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, and other law enforcement officials.
The arrests were conducted from Oct. 23 to 28 when the men showed up at several addresses in the county after chatting with undercover agents who had been posing as minors.
According to a press release issued by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, Duraikandan Murugan, Nimeshbha Patel, Niraj Patel and Naveen Thangaraj 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.
Also arrested are Asif Iqbal and Zulfiqer Sekender who could be of South Asian origin.
The defendants were lodged in the Somerset County Jail pending detention hearings.
The press release said 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.”
Murugan, 40 of Jasper, Indiana, is unemployed. His charges are 2nd degree luring, 2nd degree attempted sexual assault, and 3rd degree attempted endangering the welfare of a child.
Nimeshbhai Patel, 48 of Piscataway, N.J., 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., is a printer. He is charged with 2nd degree luring, 2nd degree attempted sexual assault and 3rd degree attempted endangering the welfare of a child.
Thangaraj, 36 of Edison, N.J., is a system engineer. He is charged with 2nd degree luring and 2nd degree attempted sexual assault.
Iqbal, 53 of Mount Holly, N.J., thought he was communicating with a 14-year-old, when arrested. The press release describes him as a business owner. He is charged with 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.
Sekender, 47 of Piscataway, N.J., a software engineer, is charged with 2nd degree luring and 3rd degree attempted endangering the welfare of a child.
“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 Grewal.
“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.”
The attorney general vowed to continue to use sting operations to catch child predators, but he also called on parents to do their part to protect their kids. “Parents, you need to understand the profiles that we used during this sting operation could easily have been your young children. You need to understand that in today’s cyber-age, we’re dealing with a new breed of criminal.”
He pointed out that “child predators once used to stalk young people on playgrounds and in shopping malls, now they lurk on social media.”
To keep kids safe, he stressed parents must teach them “that the people they encounter online or on their computers or on their phones may not be who they seem.” He also told parents to familiarize themselves with popular apps that kids download on their cell phones.
Grewal stressed parents must demonstrate “the same type of vigilance and awareness online as they do when their child is in public playing on a playground or walking around in a shopping mall.”