Court documents: Valpo man, 19, charged with soliciting a minor after sting by NWI Predator Catchers

A Valparaiso man is in custody after arranging to meet who he thought was a 13-year-old girl for a possible sexual hookup, only to be met by police when he found out he was communicating with a member of Northwest Indiana Predator Catchers, according to court documents.

Liam Raphael, 19, is charged with two counts of child solicitation, one a Level 4 felony and the other a Level 5 felony. He was in custody at Porter County Jail as of Friday evening.

According to the charging documents, officers were called on Thursday to meet at a Valparaiso gas station with a representative of NWI Predator Catchers, who had been in contact with Raphael, who believed he was meeting a 13-year-old girl.

Police transported Raphael to the Valparaiso Police Department and the representative from NWI Predator Catchers also went to the police station “to explain how he posed as ‘Ashley’ on Grindr and communicated with Raphael through text messages.”

The representative from NWI Predator Catchers told police he had been communicating with Raphael for four or five days through Grindr, posing as Ashley, according to court documents, and screenshots showed Raphael made the first contact.

“Raphael asked for a picture and if ‘Ashley’ was real,” documents state. “He then provided a contact number and advised he just sent a text.”

The two exchanged non-explicit photographs and Raphael asked “Ashley” for her age, noting that he was 19. “Ashley,” according to the charges, responded that she would be 14 in December, “implying that she was currently 13-years-old. He indicated that he was not trying to ‘catch a case’ but they could still talk.”

Raphel texted “Ashley” on May 3 and said “U can do bad stuff without her knowing,” among other texts, including one about getting together and another about a sex act, according to the charges.

As the text exchange progressed, according to the documents, Raphael “indicated they could smoke, game and maybe have sex.” He also texted a picture of his genitals.

On Thursday, the two set up a meeting time and place, at the Valparaiso gas station, after Raphael “indicated he would bring protection if she wanted to try to have sex with him.”

He texted again to say he was on his way “and reiterated that he did not want to ‘catch a case’ for her status as a minor,” documents state. Police made contact with him at the gas station.

Raphael told police “he asked the minor to cuddle but he brought condoms with him in case she wanted to have sex,” documents state. Police collected four condoms from him and noted the text he sent of his genitals. “He advised that, due to his poor memory, he forgot he sent that image.”

The NWI Predator Catchers Facebook page states that the group is “an anonymous organization dedicated to protecting children.” The page includes information reportedly about the sting involving Rafael, including a video in which police are seen in the background.

In a comment on another post, the organization states that “the police are informed on every catch,” and that it is responsible for several arrests and a conviction.

In May of last year, Shawn Ensign of Hebron, a member of the board for the Metropolitan School District of Boone Township who also was on the board of Hebron Little League, was arrested at a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot in Goshen on a Level 5 felony charge of child solicitation after a similar operation set up by Goshen-based Bikers Against Predators, an organization that goes after alleged child predators.

According to an online court docket, Ensign pleaded guilty to the charge in Elkhart Superior Court on Feb. 29. He was sentenced to three years in the Indiana Department of Correction and given credit for two days spent in the county jail there; the rest of the sentence was suspended. Ensign was required to register as a sex offender.

Raphael is scheduled for an initial hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday before Porter Superior Court Judge Mary DeBoer. His bond has been set for $20,000 cash, according to online court records.

The Level 4 felony charge is for being 18 years of age or older and soliciting a child under age 14, or someone they believe to be younger than 14, for sexual conduct, and using a computer and traveling to meet the person.

The Level 5 felony charge is for being 18 years of age or older and soliciting a child under age 14, or someone they believe to be younger than 14, for sexual conduct.