24 men have been arrested in New Jersey earlier this month for allegedly trying to lure children into meeting them in real life and s*xually abuse them. They used popular video games like Fortnite and Minecraft to find the kids.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said that the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force members set up profiles on the video games and pretended to be teens aged 14 and 15. They were approached then by grown men who thought they were talking to teens.
“As far as some of the games — like for example ‘Fortnite,’ ‘Minecraft,’ ‘Roblox’ — we’ve had all kinds of cases where individuals are posing as someone else other than a 14-year-old in order to gain someone’s trust.” – says New Jersey State Police Lt. John Pizzuro.
The grown men, now arrested, used the games or chatting apps to talk to the officers for a day or two, sometimes as long as a week, before trying to lure them to meet ‘offline’ in the real world. Police sergeant Richard Conte of the Howell Township Police Department is one of them. He thought he was talking to a 15-year-old girl, but it was an undercover officer. He has been suspended from the force since.
The men ended up going to a house in Toms River, where they thought they were going to meet the minors. They showed up to the officers instead and were arrested. The week-long sting has been called “Operation Open House”, and Grewal noted: “Surprised would be a fair way to categorize (their) reactions.”
According to reports, the arrested men were of all ages, including a 23-year-old firefighter, a 29-year-old nurse, a 28-year-old physical therapist, and a 27-year-old security guard.
Thomas Blumensteel, a 47-year-old hotel manager was already a registered sex offender, and he had been sentenced to three years in jail back in 1997.
The arrested men were able to gain access to the “teens” using online games that plenty of children play every day, and their parents often have no idea that adults are possibly trying to contact them using the chat feature available in games like Minecraft and Fortnite.
All of the 24 men arrested were charged with second-degree luring, and some of them were charged with other offenses as well. They include attempted s*xual assault on a minor, attempted showing obscene material to a minor, and attempted debauching morals of a child.
According to Grewel, “It’s critical that parents talk to their children about social media and chat apps to let them know that the people they encounter may not be who they initially seemed to be.”
Many online apps and games offer different privacy and security settings as far as ways to stay safe, and you can disable the ability to chat with anyone on games like Fortnite. You can also use online protection tools, or the good-old monitoring.
All of the men face a minimum of 5 to 10 years in prison if convicted, and a fine of up to $150,000.