Photo: Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office
A Darien man is one of 12 arrested in a New Jersey-based child predator sting operation called “Operation Spotlight,” the Somerset County prosecutor’s office announced Tuesday.
Benjamin S. Burke, 27, of Darien, was charged with second-degree attempted luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault, and third-degree attempted endangering the welfare of a child.
The prosecutor’s office noted the charges are accusations and that the suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson said “Operation Spotlight” was a multi-agency undercover operation that sought individuals using social media applications to lure underage girls and boys for sexual activity.
These underage children were actually undercover law enforcement officers who are specially trained in internet undercover operations. The individuals arrested in this operation initiated contact based on profiles posted by the undercover law enforcement officers on various social media platforms, Robertson explained.
Once chatting began, the undercover officers identified themselves as underage girls or boys, he said. The suspects allegedly engaged the “children” in conversations about sex and made arrangements to meet the “children” for sex. The defendants were arrested when they arrived at one of three pre-arranged locations in Somerset County, where they expected to find their victims, Robertson said.
Burke allegedly thought he was interacting with a 12-year-old. Darien police said they were not involved with the operation.
The arrests were made over a four-day period from Oct. 15 through Oct. 18. Electronic devices were seized from the suspects and examinations of those devices are ongoing. Their charges range from first degree promoting prostitution of a child under the age of 18, to second-degree attempted luring, second-degree attempted sexual assault of a minor, and third-degree attempted endangering the welfare by debauching the morals of a child.
The individuals will be either prosecuted by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office or federally by the United States Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey.
“Our children and their online safety is the utmost concern to us at the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. Social media apps allow predators into our homes and as law enforcement, we must do what we can to make it a safer environment,” Robertson said. “… We hope that this operation will continue to be eye-opening for parents.”
The suspects were held in Somerset County Jail pending detention hearings, with three defendants being transferred to federal authorities.
In addition to Burke, 11 men from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were arrested. Burke was the only man from Connecticut.