There are many of them on YouTube. They’re all over the country. Many are modeled after “Dateline NBC” and journalist Chris Hansen, who first started doing stings more than a dozen years ago. Each demonstrates just how many predators there are. Of them all, however, one is located in Jersey — most of the people he’s caught looking for sexual encounters will minors live in the Garden State.
And just a week ago, he was responsible for reportedly catching the volunteer chief of the Nutley Fire Department.
The Observer spoke with the man known by his first name — Ramy — last week. For his safety, we won’t use his surname and we’ll let you know he lives in North Jersey. He’s been doing his stings, on and off, for three years. And based he’s caught close to 300 men whose intention was to meet someone under the New Jersey age of consent, which is 16, for some form of sexual activity.
Once the trysts are scheduled, instead of finding a minor — there never was one; instead, the subjects speak with online decoys — they find Ramy with some of his teammates, cameras rolling, broadcasting live to YouTube.
Watching the videos are fans across the globe, not just in Jersey.
In most videos, Ramy reminds the people he’s caught he is not law enforcement. He tells them “honesty will be your best policy,” because in almost every instance, he knows the answers to the questions he asks. Stunningly, almost each and every “catch” tries to come up with some excuse — my phone was hacked, I was going to tell the boy to get off dating apps, etc. — but in this particular instance, the catch, the fire chief, was perhaps even more stunningly, transparent.
For Ramy, that openness was almost difficult to deal with.
“It wasn’t that I felt bad for the man, but this was a young guy who was throwing his life away in just a few seconds of stupidity that may destroy his future,” Ramy says. “This guy was successful, you know working or ABC, CBS, he’s the chief of the fire department. When I was a kid, I always looked up to firefighters. So this is so disappointing.”
The references to ABC and CBS Ramy refers to here are just the ones you’re thinking of. In addition to the his work as a fire chief, Henry Meola also told Ramy he works as a per-diem with the two aforementioned networks, as a lighting specialist.
According to Meola’s Linked In page, he was a parting of the lighting crew for ABC’s former cook/chat show called “The Chew.”
We asked Ramy why he thought Meola was so willing to answer his questions truthfully, while so many others simply do not.
“I have been trying to figure that out,” he says. “I think it’s either he is very submissive and just does what he is told to do without barking back or he was hoping that by answering the questions, there would be no cops involved — he didn’t want the authorities to be involved. By apologizing and being cooperative, maybe he was hoping I would help him to get therapy.”
Ramy does, indeed, offer the catches a chance to get help. In this particular case, he did not make a call to the police department to get them involved. And yet, when Ramy and Meola traveled from North Bergen to Nutley after the chief made arrangements to meet with and tell the township Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco what had gone on earlier that day, Nutley’s finest and town attorney were on hand to greet them on arrival.
“What I think happened was one of my viewers called the police to tell them what was happening,” Ramy says. “I wanted the commissioner to be aware what his fire chief was doing. I didn’t expect police involvement. But when we got to this well-known deli, even the town attorney was there. He said he just so happened to be at the deli, as hard as I find that to believe.”
Ramy says his decoy met the chief on an gay dating app called “Adam4Adam.” He says Meola was skeptical at first and asked the decoy to send him a photo of himself holding up two fingers (which did, indeed, happen.) The decoy had said his mom was at work and he would be able to “host,” which means to have a place where the encounter could occur.
They quickly chose the North Bergen Walmart as the meet-up location with the idea to go back to the kid’s house. That, of course, never happened; instead, Ramy wound up meeting with Nutley and North Bergen Detectives.
“The cops have been great — Nutley and North Bergen,” Ramy says. “They aren’t always great in my catches, but were in this case.”
If you’re interested in seeing Ramy in action, he’s all over social media. His organization is known as OBL Nation. On YouTube, visit www.youtube.com/@OBLNation; on Instagram it’s www.instagram.com/obl.nation. And on TikTik, check out www.tiktok.com/@oblnation.
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Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.