Fourteen New Jersey men, including one accused of blackmailing a girl into stripping naked on camera, are facing child pornography charges after a joint state and federal sweep uncovered a file-sharing network used by the suspects to download and distribute illicit images and videos online.
Thirty-year-old Michael Van Culin, of Monroeville, is facing charges for manufacturing child pornography after he allegedly coerced a 16-year-old Canadian girl into disrobing in front of a webcam while he recorded it remotely.
“We allege that Van Culin is a new breed of child predator: one who lurks in the shadows of the Internet and can strike from hundreds of miles away, sexually exploiting a child with devastating consequences,” said New Jersey's Acting Attorney General John Hoffman.
He then threatened to expose details of the victim's personal life so she would strip naked, according to officials.
Authorities said they recovered video showing the visibly shaken victim undressing.
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare that a hacker could invade the private world of a young girl and use her innocence and fear to enslave her," Hoffman said.
Three of the suspects -- 28-year-old Andrew Schreiner, of Williamstown, 28-year-old Armando Nortez, of Egg Harbor Township and 55-year-old Michael Parker, of Pennsauken -- were trusted with children in their work and personal lives.
Vineland mother Amber Burke-Yarbrough was disheartened to learn that her children's subsitiute bus driver, "Mr. Drew" as the kids called him, is Schreiner.
I go out of the way to befriend the bus driver because they are supposed to keep the kids safe. When I saw his face, I knew he looked familiar," said Burke-Yarbrough.
“Child predators come from all walks of life, and citizens everywhere must be vigilant as these threats aren't always easily seen,” said Andrew M. McLees, Special Agent in Charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Newark.
Both Nortez and Schreiner were employed as school bus drivers for Sheppard Bus Company when they were arrested.
When police arrived at his home on July 8th to arrest him, Parker refused to answer the door.
Looking through a window, officers could see Parker working at his computer. He was deleting nearly 200 child pornography items from his computer, according to police.
Photos of fully clothed young boys from First Presbyterian were found on his computer, according to investigators.
Thirty-one-year-old Thomas Pirretti, of Flemington, was also charged. Investigators said he and another defendant were discussing their desire for prepubescent girls online, when Pirretti asked if he could "date" the other suspect's 10-year-old daughter.
"When we target those who share child pornography online, we routinely uncover offenders who are sexually abusing children or stalking them," said Elie Honig, Director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.
Schreiner, Nortez, Parker, Van Culin, Pirretti and nine others used a file-sharing network to download and distribute child pornography online, according to investigators, who said the files included child rape videos.
The remaining suspects include a 41-year old healthcare company executive, Jonathan Fink of Cherry Hill; 47-year-old Walter Javier Vibanco of Lower Township; a 46-year-old software engineer, Arlanda Johnson of Pemberton Township; 46-year-old Daniel Allen Corda of Bellmawr; 28-year-old Jerrell Harris of Elizabeth; 23-year-old Matthew Hems of Tabernacle; a 74-year-old retired postal worker, Arnold M. Kay of Linden; 34-year-old Jorge Geovani Lopez-Betancourt of Trenton; and 48-year-old Raymond Purkis III of Montgomery Township.
Fink allegedly had at least 750 images and videos depicting child pornography on an external hard drive at his home.
"Viewing these vile images is a serious crime in itself, because it motivates those who sexually exploit children to create child ponography and it re-victimizes the children invovled," Honig said. "And it also can be a strong indicator that we are dealing with a child predator."
The file-sharing network allowed the suspects, who were all charged with possessing child pornography, to share the illicit images and videos in the same way others privately share music or movies, according to officials. Investigations into their conduct are ongoing.
Authorities took the 14 men into custody between Feb. 10 and July 22, part of a second round sweep in Operation Predator Alert, Hoffman said. Fourteen other suspects were arrested last fall.
The statute, which was signed into law on Aug. 14, enhanced the penalties for those who possess, distribute or manufacture child porn, and changed the definition of "child" to anyone under 18-years-old, up from 16.
Those convicted of distibuting 25 or more files will face a mandatory state prison sentence of five years without the possibility of parole. Defendants convicted of possessing 100 or more files will face a presumptive sentence of three to five years in prison.
Van Culin, who was charged with first-degree manufacturing of child pornography, could spend 10 to 20 years behind bars.
Bail set for the defendants ranges from $10,000 to as high as $150,000 for Van Culin.
Anyone with information about any of the suspects that might be relevant to the investigation is urged to contact New Jersey's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Tipline at 1-888-648-6007.