Operation Open House: Major Sex Sting Nets Arrests In Ocean County

Richard Conte stands during a detention hearing. Seated are other suspects in the sting operation announced by the Attorney General's Office. (Photo by Jason Allentoff)

TRENTON – Twenty-four alleged child predators have been arrested as part of a multi-agency sting, “Operation Open House,” New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Sept. 18.

The operation targeted men who, the State alleges, were using social media to lure underage boys and girls for sexual activity. The men were using social media platforms such as Kik, Skout, Whisper and Grindr, and were targeting children for sex.

Those “underage children” were, in fact, undercover officers.

The sting was set up in a house in Toms River, where most of the defendants were arrested, and where they were allegedly expecting to find the victim home alone. The arrests were made Sept. 5-9. All face second-degree charges of attempted luring or enticing a child with a purpose to commit a criminal offense against the child.

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Courtesy Attorney General’s Office

Local men arrested include:

Christopher Vargas, 29, of Toms River, a registered nurse, believed he was meeting a 15-year-old boy.

  Joseph Martin, 35, of Seaside Heights, who is unemployed, believed he was meeting a 14-year-old girl. He additionally is charged with attempted sexual assault on a minor.

Volvi Lowinger, 23, of Lakewood, a college student, thought he was meeting a 15-year-old girl. He is additionally charged with attempted sexual Assault on a minor, attempted debauching morals of a child, attempted showing obscene material to a minor.

Thomas Graciano, 28, of Brick, thought he was meeting a 15-year-old boy. He’s a physical therapist in a retirement community.

Thomas Blumensteel, 47, of Manchester, thought he was meeting a 15-year-old boy. He is a hotel manager and a registered sex offender.  He was sentenced to three years in New Jersey State Prison in 1997 for aggravated criminal sexual contact for sexually assaulting a boy, 13, whom he was supervising as a church counselor. He was additionally charged with attempted sexual assault on a minor.

Richard Conte, 47, of Farmingdale, is a police sergeant with Howell Township. He believed he was meeting a 15-year-old girl.

Thomas Fuller, 44, of Toms River, is an assistant manager/sterilization technician. He belived he was meeting a 15-year-old boy. He is additionally charged with attempted sexual assault on a minor.

Zachary Vincent, 24, of Forked River, is a landscaper. He thought he was meeting a 15-year-old girl. He is additionally charged with attempted sexual assault on a minor.

Joshua Rauter, 31, of Little Egg Harbor Township, is a muncipal public works employee. He thought he was meeting a 14-year-old girl. He is also charged with attempted debauching morals of a child and attempted showing obscene material to a minor.

Lawrence Ivancic, 51, of Toms River, is unemployed. He thought he was meeting a 14-year-old girl. He‘s additionally charged with attempted sexual assault on a minor.

Dylan Daffron, 28, of Lacey Township, a cashier, thought he was meeting a 15-year-old boy. He was additionally charged with attempted sexual assault on a minor, attempted debauching morals of a child, attempted showing obscene material to a minor.

David Studnicky, 64, of Toms River, a dry cleaner, thought he was meeting a 15-year-old boy. He was additionally charged with attempted sexual assault on a minor, attempted debauching morals of a child, attempted showing obscene material to a minor.

Anthony Perfidio, 24, of Barnegat, a data entry clerk, thought he was meeting a 15-year-old boy.

Brian Degnan, 33, of Toms River, a data entry clerk, thought he was meeting a 15-year-old boy.

William D. Davis, 23, Bayville, is a consultant. He thought he was meeting a 15-year-old girl.

Charles Schlottfeld, 26, of Bayville, a mechanic, thought he was meeting a 14-year-old girl. He is additionally charged with attempted sexual assault on a minor.

Conte, who the State said claimed in online chats to be 19 years old, arrived with condoms in his pocket when he was arrested.

They were all lodged in Ocean County Jail until their detention hearing were held last week.

Blumensteel, a registered sex offender, is being held in jail pending trial.

The other defendants were released but subject to stringent pre-trial monitoring, including regularly reporting to pre-trial services staff, not using the Internet except for work, and having only supervised contact with minors.

Conte of the Howell Police was suspended from his job, ordered to surrender his weapons, and ordered to remain under home detention.

Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree charges carry a sentence of three of five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.