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‘New breed of predator’ forced girl to strip on webcam, say state authorities in kiddie porn sweep

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

BEYOND BERGEN: A New Jersey man hacked into the email account of a 16-year-old Canadian girl and used personal information he obtained to blackmail her into stripping naked on a webcam while he recorded her, state authorities said this morning.

Michael Van Culin, who was one of 14 men arrested in a state and federal child pornography sweep, 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,” state Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.

“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,” the attorney general added. “We’re utilizing these child pornography sweeps to arrest these predators before they can harm more victims or pursue their victims offline.”

A retired postal worker from Linden and an Elizabeth man were among the others arrested and charged with distributing child pornography as part of a massive sweep involving rape videos and other illegal images.

The rest are from more far-flung corners of the state, including two school bus drivers, an aspiring youth minister, a healthcare company executive and a software engineer for an aerospace firm — who Hoffman said had top security clearance.

Their ages range from 23 to 74, and their bails from $10,000 up to $150,000 for Van Culin.

All 14 were rounded up from Feb. 10 through Tuesday as part of “Operation Predator Alert,” a joint operation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and ICE Homeland Security Investigations.

They were charged under New Jersey’s new child pornography law, signed by Gov. Christie last August, which increases the penalties for those who possess, distribute or manufacture child pornography.

If convicted of distributing 25 or more computer files of child pornography under the new law, defendants would face a mandatory state prison sentence of five years without possibility of parole. Any defendant found to have possessed 100 or more files of child pornography on his computer will face a sentence of three to five years.

Hoffman said the defendants used a file-sharing network to download and distribute child pornography, including child rape videos.

“When we target those who share child pornography online, we routinely uncover offenders who are sexually abusing children or stalking them,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “That is why these operations are so critical.

“Viewing these vile images is a serious crime in itself, because it motivates those who sexually exploit children to create child pornography and it re-victimizes the children involved,” Honig said. “And it also can be a strong indicator that we are dealing with a child predator.”

Agents found the targets by searching digital “fingerprints” of known child pornography, as well as search terms used by those who download and share child pornography, authorities said.

The files they turned up included videos showing pre-pubescent boys and girls being raped or being coerced into performing sexual acts on themselves or others, they said.

The Division of Criminal Justice obtained arrest warrants, which they began executing with HSI on Feb. 10. Several state, county and local law enforcement agencies assisted.

The new law upgrades the charge of possession of child pornography from a fourth-degree crime to a third-degree crime, and now includes prison time for a third-degree conviction even if there were no prior convictions.

Possession of 100 or more computer files of child pornography carries a state prison term of between three to five years.

Distribution of child pornography remains a second-degree crime, carrying a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison, but the new law imposes a mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility of five years for distribution of 25 or more computer files of child pornography.

In cases of possession or distribution of child pornography, the prosecutor can ask the court to impose a sentence of parole supervision for life under Megan’s Law.

The law specifically takes aim at distribution cases involving file sharing. It imposes strict liability on Internet file sharers who make child pornography files available for immediate downloading through a shared folder.

Whether the user knew he/she was sharing, or whether any other user ever found or downloaded the file, is irrelevant.

The defendants (SOURCE: NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL):

Michael Van Culin, 30, of Monroeville (Salem County), was arrested on Feb. 10. He allegedly coerced a 16-year-old Canadian girl into stripping naked on her webcam while he recorded her remotely with his computer. He previously engaged in online chats with her in which he elicited information about her life that he allegedly used to hack into her email account and get other personal information, including email addresses for her family and friends. He had password decoding software on his computer that generates likely passwords for a person from basic information such as the person’s name, date of birth, favorite sports, and names of pets and siblings. It is alleged that Van Culin ultimately blackmailed the girl by threatening to expose personal information about her to her family using the contact information from her email account. He allegedly coerced her into taking off her clothes. Van Culin’s computer allegedly contained a video of the visibly shaken girl completely disrobing in front of a mirror under his orders. The investigation into Van Culin and other prohibited images and videos on his computer of underage girls is continuing, and investigators urge anyone with information about similar conduct by Van Culin with other girls to call New Jersey’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Tipline at 1-888-648-6007. Van Culin is charged with manufacturing child pornography and possession of child pornography.

Andrew Schreiner, 28, of Williamstown, was arrested on July 11. He was employed as a school bus driver in Mays Landing by Sheppard Bus Company at the time of his arrest. He allegedly exchanged sexually explicit images with an underage male he met online. He is charged with possession of child pornography and endangering the welfare of a child.

Armando Nortez, 28, of Egg Harbor Township, was arrested on June 25. He also was employed as a school bus driver in Mays Landing by Sheppard Bus Company at the time of his arrest. He is charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.

Jonathan S. Fink, 41, of Cherry Hill, was arrested on July 16. Fink, an executive for a healthcare company, allegedly had at least 750 images and videos of child pornography on an external hard drive in his house. He is charged with possession of over 100 items of child pornography.

Michael Parker, 55, of Pennsauken, was arrested on July 8 and charged with possession of child pornography. When Parker’s computer was examined during execution of a search warrant, investigators allegedly found numerous items of child pornography and evidence of Internet activity indicating an interest in the sexual exploitation of prepubescent boys. Parker is very active with children at his church, First Presbyterian Church of Merchantville, and sought to become a youth minister. He had photos of young boys from the church on his computer. The boys in those photos were fully clothed, but investigators urge anyone with information about Parker that might be relevant to this investigation to contact the ICAC Tipline at 1-888-648-6007. Parker refused to answer his door when detectives arrived at his home. They could see him through a window working at his computer. Before he answered the door, he allegedly deleted nearly 200 items from folders on his computer that contained child pornography.

Thomas Pirretti, 31, of Flemington, was arrested on July 22. He allegedly engaged in an online chat with another defendant in Operation Predator Alert II in which they discussed their desire for prepubescent girls. Pirretti allegedly asked if he could “date” the other defendant’s 10-year-old daughter. He is charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.

Walter Javier Vibanco, 47, of Lower Township, was arrested on July 1. Vibanco allegedly possessed at least 250 images and videos of child pornography on his computer. He is charged with possession of over 100 items of child pornography and distribution of child pornography.

Arlanda Johnson, 46, of Pemberton Township, was arrested on April 24. Johnson, a software engineer with an aerospace firm who has top security clearance, is charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.

Daniel Allen Corda, 46, of Bellmawr, an unemployed electrician, was arrested on May 2. He is charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.

Matthew Hems, 23, of Tabernacle, who is unemployed, was arrested on May 21. He is charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.

Jorge Geovani Lopez-Betancourt, 34, of Trenton, who has a home-based business servicing computers, was arrested on June 10. He is charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.

Raymond Purkis III, 48, of Montgomery Township, was arrested on July 2. He is charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.

Arnold M. Kay, 74, of Linden, a retired postal worker, was arrested on June 27. He is charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.

Jerrell Harris, 28, of Elizabeth, was arrested on July 15. He is charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.

The agencies that participated in Operation Predator Alert II with the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the Cherry Hill and Newark Offices of ICE Homeland Security Investigations include:

New Jersey State Police Digital Technology Investigations Unit
New Jersey State Police Buena Vista, Port Norris, Red Lion and Woodstown Stations
New Jersey Department of Children and Families
Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office
Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office
Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office
Camden County Prosecutor’s Office
Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office
Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office
Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office
Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office
Salem County Prosecutor’s Office
Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office
Union County Prosecutor’s Office
Bellmawr Police Department
Cherry Hill Police Department
Eastampton Police Department
East Brunswick Police Department
Egg Harbor Township Police Department
Elizabeth Police Department
Erma Police Department
Flemington Police Department
Delanco Police Department
Franklin Township Police Department
Elizabeth Police Department
Hamilton Police Department
Linden Police Department
Lower Township Police Department
Middle Township Police Department
Montgomery Township Police Department
North Hanover Police Department
Pemberton Township Police Department
Pennsauken Police Department
Pennsauken Fire Department
Trenton Police Department
Woodstown Borough Police Department
Camden County Sheriff’s Office
Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office
Salem County Sheriff’s Office
Somerset County Sheriff’s Office

Special agents for the ICE Homeland Security Investigations Cherry Hill and Newark Offices conducted the operation for the government. For the state, it was supervised and conducted for the Division of Criminal Justice by Supervising Deputy Attorney General Michael Monahan, who is Chief of the Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, Supervising Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Sharpe, who is Deputy Bureau Chief, Lt. Lisa Shea and Detective Sgt. Thomas Turley; Deputy Attorneys General Jillian Carpenter, Lilianne Daniel, Denise Grugan, Naju Lathia, Marie McGovern and Anand Shah; Detectives Abraham Aquino, Richard DaSilva, Cheryl Smith, Kimberly Allen, Matthew Burd, William Jett, Ryan Kirsh, Suzanna Lopez, Jessica Maracacci, Heather Pittman, Robert Rosa, Katelyn Sake, Andrew Shrader, and Danielle Terracianno; and Executive Assistant Cynthia Ronan and Administrative Assistant Lori Pannone.

It was supervised and conducted for the State Police by Detective Sgt. Christopher DeAngelis, Detective Sgt. Keith Young, and Detectives Christopher Camm, Brian Kearns, Brett Munch and Joe Santamaria.

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