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Forest Hills man charged with transporting 13-year-old child to engage in sexual activity: Feds

Forest Hills resident Manuel Moretti was arrested by federal agents Jan. 13 and charged with transporting a 13-year-old boy across state lines for the purpose of sex. (Photo courtesy of FBI)

A Forest Hills man was arrested by the FBI Thursday, Jan. 13, and charged in Brooklyn federal court with transporting a 13-year-old boy to engage in sexual activity.

Manuel Moretti, 39, was arraigned on a six-count indictment charging him with Mann Act crimes stemming from the coercion of the 13-year-old to engage in sexual activity with him on at least four occasions. Moretti was arraigned Jan. 13 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon, who ordered him detained as both a danger to the community and a flight risk.

According to the indictment and court filings, Moretti met the 13-year-old boy on a social networking site last January and arranged for the child to travel across state lines to his Forest Hills residence on several occasions over a four-month period between January and April 2021 for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity. Moretti also provided the child with a fraudulent identification document to facilitate future sexual encounters with the child.

“As alleged, for several months last year, Moretti used different social media platforms to lure a 13-year-old child across state lines for the purpose of repeatedly engaging in sexual activity,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said. “These allegations serve as a reminder of the dangers to our children from online predators and the importance of being aware of whom our children are communicating with online. Our office is deeply committed to protecting vulnerable victims from sexual exploitation and will vigorously prosecute offenders like Moretti, who allegedly prey on children.”

The FBI conducted a voluntary interview with Moretti in December 2021, during which he admitted to meeting the victim and engaging in sexual acts with him.

He described the victim as young-looking and acknowledged that he knew the minor was in school and lived at home with his parents, although he denied knowing the child was just 13 years old. Moretti then contacted the child again, this time via the social media site Snapchat for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity, according to court documents.

During that exchange, Moretti admitted that he knew the minor was just 13 years old and again requested to meet. He also suggested the child begin to contact him using a blocked telephone number, in an apparent attempt to subvert detection by law enforcement.

“Cyberspace may not seem real to some children, or even parents, but it poses a real danger as we allege in this investigation,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J Driscoll,of the New York Field Office, said. “Unfortunately, we can’t stop these crimes from happening because the internet allows sexual predators direct access to victims. We’re asking parents to start a conversation with their children about being safe online. The FBI Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Task Force believes Mr. Moretti may have victimized others and we’re asking anyone with information to call us at 1-800-CALL-FBI.”

If convicted of all counts, Moretti faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.

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