13 men, 2 teens charged in Burlington County child sex-crime sting
Authorities in South Jersey have arrested another fifteen people in a long-spanning crackdown on child pornography and predatory behavior, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina announced Wednesday.
Among those rounded up in the second phase of “Operation Safe Quarantine”:
- A 30-year-old youth pastor accused of blackmailing boys online into recording sexual videos of themselves;
- A 40-year-old man charged with secretly recorded a nude underage girl;
- And a 72 year-old man who had child sexual abuse material, including images of infants and toddlers, according to Coffina.
A 35-year-old suspect had arranged to meet who he thought was a 13-year-old girl in a park for a sexual encounter after sending lewd videos of himself to the teen, officials said, when in reality he was in contact with an undercover agent.
Investigations into these specific types of crimes became even more urgent amid quarantine from the COVID-19 public health crisis, Coffina said, as it significantly increased opportunities for the online sexual exploitation of children.
The New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force received nearly 2,400 tips between August and December, a substantial increase during the pandemic, the prosecutor said.
In the last six months alone, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office High-Tech Crimes Unit has received 74 similar tips.
Operation Safe Quarantine phase two ran from August 2020 through January.
As previously outlined in the fall, Sean Higgins, 30, of Palmyra, was arrested and charged with 28 criminal counts including first-degree aggravated sexual assault and manufacturing child pornography.
Prosecutors said the then-youth pastor at Harbor Baptist Church and teacher at the Harbor Baptist Academy in Hainesport would pose as a girl online in order to trick unsuspecting young boys on Snapchat and Instagram. Victims included 12-to-15-year-old boys in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.
Higgins had not, as of October, been accused of preying on the children he worked with, as the investigation into additional victims remains ongoing.
He was charged with six counts of first-degree manufacturing child sexual abuse material, one count of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, five counts of second-degree distribution of child sexual abuse material, one count of second-degree sexual assault, six counts of third-degree possession of child sexual abuse material and six counts of third-degree endangering the welfare of a child. He also faces one count each of criminal sexual contact, obstruction and contempt, all fourth-degree crimes.
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Bryan Bereza, 40, of Pemberton Borough, was arrested in December, accused of secretly recording an underage female while she was nude and then sending the images to other individuals. He faces the following dozen charges, filed over a two-day span:
- Nine counts of endangering the welfare of a child (two first-degree, six second-degree and one third-degree)
- Sexual assault by sexual contact (second-degree)
- Two counts of invasion of privacy (third-degree)
Jason McCann, 35, of Blackwood, was charged Aug. 12 with luring, attempted obscenity of a minor and attempted endangering the welfare of a child.
McCann believed he was sending pictures of his genitals and videos of himself masturbating to a 13-year-old girl, when in reality he was in contact with a federal special agent, Coffina said, adding McCann then tried to arrange a meeting at a park in Bordentown Township to have sex with the girl.
David Bucci, 43, of Burlington City, was charged Dec. 22 with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child (two second-degree, two third-degree). Bucci is accused of leading a network for distributing child sexual abuse material.
Stephen Gifford, 36, of Medford, was charged Nov. 2 with counts of endangering the welfare of a child (two first-degree, one second-degree, one third-degree). Gifford is charged with distributing and possessing child sexual abuse material.
This is not Gifford’s first time being busted for owning child pornography. In 2016, he was an instructor at a youth camp in Medford when he was arrested. He pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography and lost three teaching certificates as part of the process, as reported by the Courier-Post.
Douglas Harper, 53, was charged Oct. 2 with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child (three second-degree, one third-degree). At the time of his arrest, Harper lived in Marlton, but now is a resident of Mount Laurel. He was accused of distribution and possession of child sexual abuse material, including the use of file sharing software.
Azan Babar, 18, of Willingboro, was charged Jan. 27 with three counts of endangering the welfare of a child (two second-degree, one third-degree). Babar was caught selling online links of child sexual abuse material to other individuals, Coffina said.
Frank Gibson, 72, of Tabernacle, was charged Sept. 24 with endangering the welfare of a child (third-degree). Gibson was accused of possessing child sexual abuse material, including images of infants and toddlers.
Mihir Patel, 25, of Mount Laurel, was charged Jan. 15 with third-degree attempted endangering the welfare of a child and third degree attempted obscenity to a minor. Patel sent pictures of his genitals to a person he thought was a 10-year-old girl, who instead was a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to authorities.
Trevor Brown, 34, of Marlton, was charged Oct. 15 with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child (one second-degree, one third-degree). He was accused of distributing and possessing child sexual abuse material.
David Epps Jr., 34, of Medford, was charged Oct. 21 with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child (one second-degree, one third-degree). He was accused with distributing and possessing child sexual abuse material.
Mark Garagozzo, 31, of Ambler, Pennsylvania, was charged Sept. 10, with endangering the welfare of a child (second-degree). He was accused of possessing child sexual abuse material. Garagozzo was arrested in Pennsylvania with the assistance of federal agents out of Philadelphia and police in his hometown in Montgomery County.
Zachary Snider, 20, of Mount Laurel, was charged January 25, 2021 with one count of endangering the welfare of a child (third-degree). He was accused of possession of child sexual abuse material.
A 17-year-old male, from Willingboro, was charged Sept. 30 and a 16-year-old male, from Medford, was charged Jan. 14, both with third-degree endangering the welfare of a child. Each minor was accused of possessing child sexual abuse material.
Ten arrests were made on similar charges last summer, in the first phase of Operation Safe Quarantine between June and July 2020.
Seven of those suspects already have pleaded guilty in Superior Court, Coffina said.