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New Jersey man sentenced for grooming Indiana girl online, transporting her across state lines

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A New Jersey man was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for grooming a minor online and transporting her across state lines via Uber for sex.

Arnold Castillo, 23, of Paterson, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and coercion and enticement of a minor.

According to court documents, from January 2022 to May 2022, Castillo used the false identity “Jacob Shedletsky” to communicate with and groom a 15-year-old girl through social media and apps such as Instagram, Roblox and Discord.

Castillo engaged in grooming behaviors, such as buying the girl’s anime artwork using CashApp, and purchasing other high-value items on Amazon such as an artist’s glove for drawing tablet, a Max Smart tablet drawing stand, and a Wacom MobileStudio Pro 13 Windows 10 computer to be delivered to her parents’ home in Indiana.

Castillo intentionally led the girl to believe that he had the ability to connect her to employment opportunities in the online gaming industry and used this leverage to engage in sexually explicit conversations with her. Castillo coerced and persuaded the girl into believing they were in love and that her family was her enemy.

During these conversations, Castillo discussed his plans to arrange for the girl to travel from Indiana to New Jersey so they could be together and engage in sexual activity. Castillo used the Uber application to find and hire a driver in New Jersey to transport the girl the 700 miles to his residence. Castillo paid the driver $500 through CashApp before they left New Jersey, and another $500 in cash when they returned with the victim.

When the girl arrived at Castillo’s New Jersey residence, Castillo sexually abused her on multiple occasions and used Uber to have others purchase or attempt to purchase the “Plan B” pill to prevent the girl from becoming pregnant.

For days, Castillo kept the girl in New Jersey and continued to abuse her, knowing that her family and law enforcement were desperately searching for her. In a recorded phone interview on May 5, 2022, Castillo lied to law enforcement officers, stating that he had no idea where she was and that she must have run away.

On May 11, 2022, eight days after the girl was reported missing, FBI agents recovered her from Castillo as the two were walking in front of his residence. At the time of his arrest, Castillo had several unopened condoms in his pocket. Castillo admitted to law enforcement agents that he kept the victim in his care, custody, and control in a small room and controlled her movements in and out of the room. He also controlled her access to food and basic necessities, knowing that she had no financial resources or ability to travel back to Indiana.

“No parent should have to endure eight torturous days not knowing if their child is alive or dead, only to learn that a stranger used social media and other online tools to groom their child and spirit them across the country,” said Zachary A. Myers, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, “This defendant is a stone-cold, manipulative, child predator who used the tools of social media and gaming to abuse a vulnerable child and then obstructed the efforts of law enforcement officers to secure her safe return home. I commend the outstanding work of local law enforcement agencies along with the FBI’s Indianapolis and Newark Field Offices for working around the clock for eight days to bring the victim home safely. Thanks to the outstanding work of these law enforcement officers and our federal prosecutor, this dangerous predator will be unable to harm another child.”

“This was a horrible nightmare for both the child lured away from home under false pretenses and the family who was left to worry about where she was, if she was safe, and if they would ever see her again,” said Herbert J. Stapleton, special agent in charge for FBI Indianapolis. “The FBI and our partners will always do everything in our power to safely recover a child and reunite them with their loved ones.”

The FBI Indianapolis and FBI in Paterson, New Jersey, investigated this case along with local law enforcement. The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Court Judge, Matthew P. Brookman. Judge Brookman also ordered that Castillo be supervised by the U.S. Probation Office for 20 years following his release from federal prison and pay $10,000 in restitution to the victim.

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