A dozen men, including an elementary school gym teacher, are facing charges after their arrests on Friday. Authorities say the men wanted to meet a child for sex.
It was part of a three-day undercover operation by the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
It took months to come together. Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene said they had 17 people working on the sting each day this week and the outcome was a success.
“The goal of this operation was to investigate child exploitation and sexual predators’ activity on the internet,” Greene said.
Undercover officers posed as minors on internet chats and spent the past three days targeting child predators online. Each suspect is accused of having sexually explicit conversations with them and traveling to a vacant Mahoning County home to meet up.
“They all knew that they were supposedly chatting with somebody underage — usually, generally, 15 years or younger,” said Bureau of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Jim Ciotti.
Among the men arrested is 24-year-old James Norkus, a physical education teacher at Kirkmere Elementary School in Youngstown. He was also recently hired as the assistant varsity football coach at Leetonia Schools.
“It was concerning,” said Major Jeff Allen, with the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office. “But doing these operations, you gotta be prepared for anybody to walk in that door.”
Norkus has been suspended without pay from both districts after news of the charges was released.
The Youngstown City School District said it won’t take any action during the investigation, but Norkus is prohibited from entering the district-owned property or having contact with students and staff during his case.
“It is reprehensible that anyone would arrange to meet with a juvenile for sex but it is even more appalling when the person facing charges is an elementary school teacher,” Attorney General Mike DeWine said.
They all face charges of importuning, unlawful sexual conduct with minors and possession of criminal tools:
- James Norkus, 24, Salem
- Naji Alsagoor, 25, Boardman
- Robert Canann, Jr., 50, Niles
- Justin Coyne, 21, Cleveland
- Adam Dziedzic, 38, New Castle
- Brandon Gorcheff, 26, North Lima
- Thomas Maylone, Jr., 29, East Liverpool
- Kevin McNally, 23, Boardman
- Alexander Morlan, 21, New Middletown
- Andrew Nuzzi, 22, Girard
- Peter Petroff, Jr., 47, Boardman
- Edward Webker, 41, Andover
Webker and Nuzzi are also charged with disseminating matter harmful to juveniles because investigators said they sent sexually-explicit photographs during their online chats with the undercover officers.
If convicted, the suspects would have to register as sex offenders.
“So the people in the community know you shouldn’t have them around your kids. These people could be a danger,” said Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer McLaughlin.
The 12 men could also face up to 18 months in prison, depending on their charges.
It’s also important to note that the two suspects from Pennsylvania who crossed state lines could be federally prosecuted. That’s one of the criteria prosecutors consider when indicting suspects.
“I want everybody to know, you know, anyone who is out there, who is looking to exploit anyone who is underage, that if they’re on the internet and they’re talking to anybody, I want them to think that it could be one of us,” Greene said.
He recommended that parents carefully track their children’s online conversations because he said predators are out there.