TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced that two Ocean County men have been sentenced to state prison for attempting to lure “underage teenagers” they met on social media for a sexual encounter. The underage teens in reality were undercover detectives in “Operation Open House.”
Operation Open House resulted in the arrests of 24 men who allegedly were using social media to lure underage girls and boys for sexual activity. The operation was led by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which is led by the New Jersey State Police, and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. The ICAC Task Force also includes the Division of Criminal Justice, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), all 21 County Prosecutors’ Offices, and many other state, county and local law enforcement agencies.
Volvi Lowinger, 25, of Lakewood, N.J., a student who worked at a dry cleaning business, was sentenced on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, to four years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Rochelle Gizinski in Ocean County. He pleaded guilty on Nov. 15, 2019 to a second-degree charge of luring for attempting to arrange sex with an undercover officer he believed was a 15-year-old girl.
Brian Degnan, 34, of Toms River, N.J., a data-entry clerk, was sentenced yesterday, Jan. 29, 2020, to three years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Therese A. Cunningham in Ocean County. He pleaded guilty on Dec. 4, 2019 to a second-degree charge of luring for attempting to arrange sex with an undercover officer he believed was a 15-year-old boy.
Both men will be required to register as sex offenders under Megan’s Law and will be subject to parole supervision for life.
Deputy Attorney General Danielle P. Counts prosecuted Lowinger for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Cyber Crimes Bureau, and Deputy Attorneys General Lilianne Daniel and Lisa Rastelli prosecuted Degnan.
“These prison sentences reflect our commitment to aggressively prosecute child predators,” said Attorney General Grewal. “In addition to large-scale operations like Open House, we patrol the internet and social media on a daily basis with our federal, state, and local partners to protect children. We urge parents to do their part by talking to their children about social media and the dangers posed by online predators.”
“Sexual predators like Lowinger and Degnan need to know that the children they target on social media may very well be law enforcement officers,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We are working diligently to lock up child predators and those who distribute child pornography online.”
“These defendants attempted to use social media to satisfy their perverse desires. These prison sentences will serve as a reminder to any predators looking to prey upon innocent children that our detectives or the detectives of our partners on the ICAC Task Force may be on the receiving end of their solicitations,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
Lowinger was arrested in Operation Open House after a detective with the Wall Township Police Department encountered him on social media. Lowinger, who believed the detective was a 15-year-old girl, asked the “girl” to meet him for sexual activity. During the exchanges, Lowinger sent sexually explicit photos of himself to the “girl.” He was arrested on Sept. 6, 2018 when he arrived at the undercover house in Toms River where dozens of officers and agents participating in Operation Open House were prepared to arrest offenders and process evidence.
Degnan was arrested in Operation Open House after a detective of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office encountered him on social media. Degnan, who believed the detective was a 15-year-old boy, asked the “boy” to meet him for sexual activity. During the exchanges, Degnan discussed the sexual acts they would perform when they met. He was arrested on Sept. 6, 2018 during a motor vehicle stop near the undercover house in Toms River, after he drove by the house slowly and sent a text message that there were a lot of police in the area. Degnan had condoms, sexual lubricant, and a sex toy in the car.
In addition to investigating cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, members of the New Jersey State Police Digital Technology Investigations Unit, the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Cyber Crimes Bureau, and the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force routinely conduct undercover chat investigations on social media platforms leading to arrests of hands-on offenders and defendants attempting to lure children. They also conduct proactive investigations to apprehend offenders by monitoring peer-to-peer file-sharing networks and identifying the IP addresses of individuals sharing child pornography.
Attorney General Grewal and Director Allende urge anyone with information about the distribution of child pornography on the internet – or about suspected improper contact by unknown persons communicating with children via the internet or possible exploitation or sexual abuse of children – to please contact the New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Tipline at 888-648-6007.
For Lowinger: Rory Wells, Esq., Jackson, N.J.
For Degnan: Jonathan F. Marshall, Esq., Red Bank, N.J.