TRENTON — They thought they were chatting online with teenage boys and girls — and many of them traveled to Toms River to meet the underage prey for sex, officials say. But in reality, it was all an undercover sting that resulted in the arrests of 23 men from New Jersey and another from the Bronx.

One of the men is a Howell police officer — an arrest that New Jersey 101.5 reported on earlier this month. Investigators ensnared other public servants: a firefighter, a public works employee, a nurse, a train conductor.

Undercover investigators used common social networking and messaging apps including Kik, Skout, Whisper and Grindr.

“It is a frightening reality that sexual predators are lurking on social media, ready to strike if they find a child who is vulnerable,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said.

“Parents need to be aware of their children’s activities on the internet, and if children appear anxious or evasive when this topic is raised, it may be a red flag. It is 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 seem to be.”

(NJ Attorney General's Office)

State prosecutors say that all 24 men were told that they were speaking with someone who was underage, but they still engaged in sexually explicit conversations and arranged to meet the persons they were chatting with for sexual encounters.

Howell police Sgt. Richard Conte, 47, who has been suspended from his job and remains under home detention, told the 15-year-old he thought he was chatting with that he was 19. Police said he showed up at the Toms River decoy house with condoms in his pocket.

One of the accused is already a registered sex offender. Thomas Blumensteel, 47, busted this month on charges of trying to meet with a person who he thought was a 15-year-old boy, served three years in prison in the late 1990's after being convicted of raping a 13-year-old boy whom he knew as a church counselor.

The arrests were made over five days this month.

All the men except Blumensteel have been released from jail pending trial.

The accused

All were charged with second-degree attempted luring. Any additional charges are listed below.

Mina G. Beshay, 27, of Monroe. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old girl. Beshay is a security guard. Additional charges: Attempted Debauching Morals of a Child (3rd degree), Attempted Showing Obscene Material to a Minor (3rd degree).

Christopher Vargas, 29, of Toms River. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old boy. Vargas is a registered nurse.

Joshua Rauter, 31, of Little Egg Harbor. Thought he was chatting with a 14-year-old girl. Rauter is a municipal public works employee for Ship Bottom. Additional charges: Attempted Debauching Morals of a Child (3rd degree), Attempted Showing Obscene Material to a Minor (3rd degree).

Joseph Martin, 35, of Seaside Heights. Thought he was chatting with a 14-year-old girl. Martin is unemployed. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

Richard Hoffman, 23, of Mays Landing in Hamilton. Thought he was chatting with a 14-year-old girl. Hoffman is a firefighter for the Cologne Volunteer Fire Co. in Mays Landing, and a college student.

Volvi Lowinger, 23, of Lakewood. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old girl. Lowinger is a college student. Additional charges: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree), Attempted Debauching Morals of a Child (3rd degree), Attempted Showing Obscene Material to a Minor (3rd degree).

Thomas Graciano, 28, of Brick. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old boy. Graciano is a physical therapist in a retirement community.

Thomas Blumensteel, 47, of Manchester. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old boy. Blumensteel is a hotel manager and a registered sex offender. He was sentenced to three years in New Jersey State Prison in 1997 for aggravated criminal sexual contact for sexually assaulting a boy, 13, whom he was supervising as a church counselor. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

Howell police Sgt. Richard Conte (Ocean County Jail)

Richard Conte, 47, of Farmingdale. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old girl. Conte is a sergeant with the Howell Township Police Department.

Thomas Fuller, 44, Toms River. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old boy. Fuller is an assistant manager/sterilization technician. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

Zachary Vincent, 24, of Forked River in Lacey. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old girl. Vincent is a landscaper. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

William Singleton, 24, of Pemberton. Thought he was chatting with a 14-year-old girl. Singleton is a restaurant worker. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

Jonathan Vece, 22, of Turnersville in Washington Township. Thought he was chatting with a 14-year-old girl. Vece is a canvasser. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

Lawrence Ivancic, 51, of Toms River. Thought he was chatting with a 14-year-old girl. Ivancic is unemployed. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

Robert Lisicki, 51, of Metuchen. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old boy. Lisicki is a train conductor. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

Dylan Daffron, 28, of Lacey. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old boy. Daffron is a cashier at a retail store. Additional charges: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree), Attempted Debauching Morals of a Child (3rd degree), Attempted Showing Obscene Material to a Minor (3rd degree).

Steven Portnoy, 27, of Egg Harbor Township. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old girl. Pornoy is unemployed. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

David Studnicky, 64, of Toms River. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old boy. Studnicky is employed as a dry cleaner. Additional charges: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree), Attempted Debauching Morals of a Child (3rd degree), Attempted Showing Obscene Material to a Minor (3rd degree).

NJ Attorney General's Office

Anthony Perfidio, 24, of Barnegat. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old boy. Perfidio is a data entry clerk.

Brian Degnan, 33, of Toms River. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old boy. Degnan is a data entry clerk.

Nabindranauth Nandalall, 24, of the Bronx. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old girl. Nandalall is unemployed.

William D. Davis, 23, Bayville. Thought he was chatting with a 15-year-old girl. Davis is a consultant.

Charles Schlottfeld

Charles Schlottfeld, 26, of Bayville. Thought he was chatting with a 14-year-old girl. Schlottfeld is a mechanic. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

Douglas Walton, 54, of Hillsborough. Thought he was chatting with a 14-year-old boy. Walton is employed in produce. Additional charge: Attempted Sexual Assault on a Minor (2nd degree).

Also on New Jersey 101.5:

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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