Michigan woman charged with endangering Union County juvenile

UNION COUNTY — A Michigan woman has been charged with multiple criminal offenses after engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a Union County juvenile over the course of more than a year, having first made contact with the victim online when he was 11, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park announced.

Jessica Carlton, 44, of Grand Rapids, Mich., is charged with two counts of second-degree attempting to lure or entice a child and 12 counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a third-degree offense.

In early March 2015, the Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Victims Unit received a referral from a municipal police department in Union County indicating that Carlton recently had been communicating with the victim, who at that point was 13, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Colleen Ruppert, who is prosecuting the case.

A subsequent joint investigation by the Special Victims Unit and the municipal police department revealed that Carlton first contacted the victim via Xbox Live, an online multiplayer gaming system, sometime in May 2013, Ruppert said.

During the course of playing video games together online, Carlton and the boy developed a relationship that grew to involve sexually explicit text messages and phone conversations, then the exchange of sexually explicit photographs, according to the investigation.

In December 2014, Carlton allegedly traveled from Michigan to Union County to bring the victim several gifts and to meet him in person; the gifts given at this time and on other occasions included clothes, debit cards, and jewelry, Ruppert said.

Carlton was arrested in Michigan on April 9 and recently was extradited to New Jersey by the Union County Sheriff’s Office, after which she was lodged in Union County Jail on $225,000 bail. She also has been ordered not to have any contact with the victim.

“It’s extremely important for parents to understand that during the course of doing something that certainly might seem harmless – playing a video game online – their children could easily wind up meeting adults with dark intentions,” Park said.

“We urge parents to remain aware of their children’s online activities and be vigilant about ensuring their safety.”

These criminal charges are mere accusations. Each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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