SOMERVILLE — Undercover investigators busted 19 men in Somerset County on charges accusing them of trying to meet with underage boys and girls for sex.

Prosecutors on Thursday announced the arrests, which happened from Oct. 23 to 28 when the men showed up at several addresses in the county after chatting with undercover agents who had been posing as minors.

The 19 arrests from Operation Open Door bring the total of such busts this year in the state to 59.

“We have sent a powerful message to predators that the boy or girl they target on social media may turn out to be the officer who puts them in handcuffs,” state Attorney General Grewal said Thursday in a written statement.

“Through these collaborative efforts, we also are delivering a message to parents that we must all do our part to protect children by talking to them and warning them that predators use popular chat apps and gaming platforms to lure children into danger. We have no higher priority than protecting our children.”

On the same day, state officials announced an initiative to teach children and teens the importance of protecting themselves and their data online. 

It's not just sexual predators targeting kids. More than a million U.S. children in 2017 were victimized by identity thieves on social medial, online apps and video game platforms. State officials cited a 2018 study by Javelin Strategy & Research that found that two-thirds of the victims were under the age of 8.

Almost all of the men arrested in this month's sting were from the region while one was from Pennsylvania and two were in the state for work.

Prosecutors in Somerset County said police confiscated electronic devices from the suspects, which could result in further charges if investigators find evidence that the men had previously engaged with minors.

Brayan Alvarado busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

1. Brayan Alvarado, 25, of Middlesex Borough. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Alvarado is a volunteer firefighter and driver for an electric company. Charges are second-degree luring and third-degree child endangerment.

Jihaad Brown busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

2. Jihaad Brown, 23, of Franklin Park section of Franklin. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Brown is retail salesman. Charges are second-degree luring and third-degree child endangerment.

Michael Brown busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

3. Michael Brown, 28, of Edison. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Brown is a mail tester. Charges are second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault, and third-degree child endangerment.

Julio Cubia-Aviles busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

4. Julio Cubia-Aviles, 27, of West Orange. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Cubia-Aviles is a carpenter. Charges are second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault, and third-degree child endangerment.

Brian Davis busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

5. Brian Davis, 28, of Somerset section of Franklin. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Davis is a security guard. Charges are second-degree attempted promotion of child prostitution, second-degree luring, and third-degree child endangerment.

Asif Iqbal busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

6. Asif Iqbal, 53, of Mount Holly. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Iqbal is a business owner. Charges are second-degree attempted promotion of child prostitution, second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault, and third-degree child endangerment.

Juan Lopez busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

7. Juan Lopez, 42, of Passaic. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Lopez is a day laborer. Charges are second-degree attempted sexual assault and third-degree child endangerment.

Rafael Martinez-Lezama busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

8. Rafael Martinez-Lezama, 37 of New Brunswick. An undercover agent posed as a 13-year-old. Martinez-Lezama is a cook at a bagel shop. Charges are second-degree luring and third-degree child endangerment.

Jose Martinez-Mejia busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

9. Jose Martinez-Mejia, 32, of West New York. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Martinez-Mejia is a day laborer. Charges are second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault, third-degree child endangerment, and third-degree attempt to promote obscene material to child.

Duraikandan Murugan busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

10. Duraikandan Murugan, 40, of Jasper, Indiana. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Murugan is unemployed. Charges are second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault, and third-degree child endangerment.

Nimeshbha Patel busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

11. Nimeshbha Patel, 48, of Piscataway. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Patel is a retail worker. Charges are second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault and third-degree child endangerment.

Niraj Patel busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

12. Niraj Patel, 46, of Somerset section of Franklin. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Patel is a printer. Charges are second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault and third-degree child endangerment.

Michael Scumacher busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

13. Michael Schumacher, 55, of Somerset section of Franklin. An undercover agent posed as a 12-year-old. Schumacher is a self-employed home theater installer. Charges are second-degree luring and third-degree child endangerment.

Zulfiqer Sekender busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

14. Zulfiqer Sekender, 47, of Piscataway. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Sekender is a software engineer. Charges are second-degree luring and third-degree child endangerment.

Naveen Thangaraj busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

15. Naveen Thangaraj, 36, of Edison. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Thangaraj is a system engineer. Charges are second-degree luring and second-degree attempted sexual assault.

Alexander Ulikowski busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

16. Alexander Ulikowski, 20, of Branchburg. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Ulikowski is an assistant manager for a hockey store. Charges are second-degree luring and third-degree child endangerment.

Conrado Vasquez-Vasquez busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

17. Conrado Vasquez-Vasquez, 38, of New Brunswick. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Vasquez-Vasquez works at a dry cleaners. Charges are second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault and third-degree child endangerment.

Randal Wise busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

18. Randal Wise, 42, of Crawford, Indiana. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Wise is an engineer for a sports television network. Charges are second-degree luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault, third-degree child endangerment and third-degree attempt to promote obscene material to child.

Adam Ziegler busted in Operation Open Door in October 2019. (NJ Attorney General's Office)

19. Adam Zeigler, 34, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. An undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old. Zeigler works for an amusement park. Charges are second-degree luring and third-degree child endangerment.

New Jersey 101.5 was not able to reach the suspects for comment on Thursday.

Grewal on Thursday vowed to continue to use sting operations like Operation Open Door to catch child predators, but he also called on parents to do their part to protect their kids.

“Parents, you need to understand the profiles that we used during this sting operation could easily have been your young children. You need to understand that in today’s cyber-age, we’re dealing with a new breed of criminal.”

He pointed out that “child predators once used to stalk young people on playgrounds and in shopping malls, now they lurk on social media.”

To keep kids safe, he stressed parents must teach them “that the people they encounter online or on their computers or on their phones may not be who they seem.”

He also told mothers and fathers to familiarize themselves with popular apps that kids download on their cell phones.

“These are today’s playgrounds. Predators are using them actively to target our young people.”

Grewal said it’s also important to “check the security settings on your kids' phones and on these apps and games if they have them on their phones. Check who your young children are able to speak to.”

Grewal stressed parents must demonstrate “the same type of vigilance and awareness online as they do when their child is in public playing on a playground or walking around in a shopping mall.”

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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