'Consider yourselves warned': Burlington County prosecutor issues warning to online predators lurking during pandemic

PEMBERTON, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina issued a stern warning on Thursday morning to people on the internet who are looking to do harm.

"Those of you swapping images of child pornography or seeking to engage in sexualized acts, texts, chats, or meetups with children consider yourselves warned," he said.

Strong words delivered on the heels of a major multi-law enforcement bust during the pandemic involving eight men, who are now charged with having and distributing child porn along with other related charges.

"This will always be our number one priority," Coffina said.

The men were netted during "Operation Safe Quarantine."

The operation focused on the safety of children, who are now online more than ever during COVID-19 closures.

"The troubling downside of our online world has been magnified during the COVID pandemic," Coffina stated.

In fact, the prosecutor's office says 52 cyber tips were received by the office from March 17 through July 16 of this year. That in contrast to the 29 received this time last year.

The New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force said it received 760 cyber tips in 2019. This year they have received 2,240.

"The gratification we get putting handcuffs on a predator is temporary because we're on the to the next one," said Richard Reinhold with Homeland Security.

In Burlington County, a major tool at the disposal of local, state, and even federal law enforcement agencies is the High Tech Crimes Unit.

"We do everything that we can to try and find that data that is there," said Supervisor Detective Sgt. David Kohler.

In this seemingly unassuming space, is a collective of law enforcement experience and tech designed to solve crimes in an era where just about everything has a digital footprint.

"Cell phones, computers, flash drives, digital media, thinking outside the box now, vehicles," Kohler said.

Unfortunately, it's a win that is short-lived, because pandemic or not, this group is always at work.

"It's a never-ending war that we're just trying to keep winning," Reinhold said.

"Operation Safe Quarantine" is ongoing and more arrests and charges are expected in the coming days.
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