HOPKINTON — A local detective who worked closely with a 14-year-old Hope Valley girl and her family helped lead a multiagency state and federal effort that led to the capture of a 23-year-old New Jersey man that the police said had been targeting students including three from Rhode Island in a child pornography scam.
U.S. Attorney Aaron L. Weisman filed charges last month against Pritkumar Tarunkumar Patel, of Closter, N.J., following a lengthy investigation into complaints that he had coerced two Chariho students and a Westerly teenager into sending him nude photographs before threatening to send those photographs to friends, family and classmates if they did not maintain communication.
Patel was formally arraigned last week in U.S. District Court in Providence on charges of production of child pornography, receipt of child pornography, transferring obscene material and cyberstalking. He was ordered held by a U.S. magistrate pending trial.
Court documents show that Hopkinton Detective John Forbes, who took the initial complaint regarding the matter, provided crucial information to the courts and obtained a warrant that led officials to identify Patel and take him into custody.
"These are very difficult cases, and to his credit it was John's persistence that convinced the victims and their parents to come forward, and to obtain the information that allowed all the agencies involved to identify him," Hopkinton Police Chief David Palmer said. "Forbes received the initial call, and he knew who to work with in order to sound the alarm."
Hopkinton police were joined in the investigation by personnel with the Rhode Island State Police, New Jersey State Police and Homeland Security Investigations. Homeland Security agents later used the information to obtain an arrest warrant.
According to police and court records, Forbes was initially contacted in August by the family of a 14-year-old girl from Hope Valley who were concerned regarding an inappropriate online relationship the 14-year-old had with a person whom she believed was a 17-year-old boy named "Taylor."
The police said Patel, who met the girl via Instagram, quickly became demanding and convinced the girl to send him nude photographs. He later asked for her phone number and urged the girl to "mask" his number as a female friend to avoid detection.
After receiving the photographs, the police said he threatened to disseminate them to her entire school after the victim's mother learned of the interaction and blocked him. That led the family to take the matter to police, according to an affidavit. A warrant led police to discover the girl's photos and several of Patel's genitals on the account that Patel had used.
A few days later, the Hopkinton police took a second complaint from another 14-year-old local girl who had befriended "Taylor" on Snapchat. Similar to the previous incident, an affidavit said he convinced her to send nude photographs and threatened to release them publicly if she didn't send more.
An affidavit indicated that Patel had also befriended a 16-year-old Westerly girl in February 2019 while also using the name "Taylor," and later convinced her to send nude photos, as well as interact using the FaceTime app. Following the exchange, which was considered sexually explicit, he had again threatened to release her photos publicly if she did not maintain the relationship.
Court records indicate that there may be a fourth victim, a 13-year-old girl from Indiana.
Palmer praised the work of Forbes, as well as the U.S. Attorney and Rhode Island State Police, saying their efforts helped to not only capture someone who had sent thousands of messages with the intent of preying on minors, but helped secure the evidence to keep him behind bars until trial.
"This was an example of an Internet troll and predator and hopefully, he will now be brought to justice," Palmer said. "There are many great kids in the area and, as in this case, young individuals could be impacted forever by a two-minute bad decision. Getting a guy like this behind bars helps prevent a few others from falling victim and hopefully sends the message to others who would do this that it will not be tolerated."