#NJ men busted in probe targeting online sex crimes amid coronavirus

#NJ men busted in probe targeting online sex crimes amid coronavirus

July 24, 2020 | 12:55pm | Updated July 24, 2020 | 1:02pm

Seven New Jersey men are facing child-pornography charges amid a probe targeting online sex crimes during the coronavirus pandemic — after a sharp increase in hotline tips, authorities say.

The mass quarantine in New Jersey during the coronavirus crisis led to “increased opportunities for sexual exploitation” of children online, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office said Thursday.

“Those who believe the anonymity of cyberspace will mask their illegal activity could not be more mistaken,” county Prosecutor Scott Coffina said.

“As illustrated by these arrests, we know how to find you, apprehend you and hold you accountable for endangering innocent children as a means of seeking your depraved gratification.”

The “Operation Safe Quarantine” investigation was launched in May amid an increase in online tips sent to investigators, Coffina said.

The prosecutor’s office received 52 tips from mid-March through mid-July, compared to 29 during the same period a year earlier.

Throughout the state, the increase was even more significant, as the New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force got nearly three times as many tips from March through May as it did in 2019, Coffina said.

Seven suspects were arrested in the probe, including Donald Ebner, a 63-year-old Lumberton man who worked as a janitor at Delran Intermediate School when he was charged in June with possessing more than 1,000 child-pornography images, Coffina said.

Also charged in the investigation was Andrew Marinari, 27, of Medford Lakes, who is accused of possessing child porn and showing it to minors while engaging in explicit conversations with them online, Coffina said.

Marinari, who was charged in late May, sent underage boys pictures of his genitals and received the same images back from them, authorities allege.

Coffina’s office also cited another case that was resolved before this ongoing investigation, which is expected to yield additional arrests in coming weeks.

Ryan Fischer, 29, of South Bound Brook pleaded guilty last week to attempted endangering the welfare of a child after he was charged in March with sending photos of his genitals and video of himself masturbating to a person who he thought was a 14-year-old girl, Coffina said.

But the person who received the explicit images and footage was actually a detective from the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office’s High-Tech Crimes Unit, authorities said.

Fischer also tried to set up a meeting with the girl at a motel to have sex, Coffina said.

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