A registered sex offender was arrested at his Boyertown-area residence following an investigation that began seven months earlier with an internet dragnet targeting child sex predators, Berks County detectives said Thursday.
Edward F. Merkel, 51, of the 900 block of West Philadelphia Avenue, Colebrookdale Township, was committed to Berks County Prison in lieu of $100,000 bail after arraignment before District Judge David E. Glass in Reading Central Court.
Charges include unlawful contact with a minor and criminal use of a communication facility.
According to investigators:
On May 5, detectives received a complaint from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The complaint identified Merkel as a suspect that was using the website Tagged.com to lure a child into participating in sexual activity.
The center forwarded information that in January 2020, personnel assumed the persona of a 15-year-old girl and exchanged numerous electronic communications, sexual in nature, with Merkel, who used his Tagged.com account.
Then on May 19, Merkel and the purported 15-year-old arranged to meet at a pre-planned location in Berks. Merkel was observed by a surveillance team arriving in his car and walking around his vehicle before driving home.
The electronic communications between the defendant and the purported teen were continuous and ongoing from May 18 through May 31.
In October 2020, Merkel initiated contact with another purported 15-year-old, who was also an undercover county detective.
He requested the purported teen to send photos. Communications were sexual in nature.
On Oct. 15, Merkel and the purported 15-year-old arranged to meet at a pre-planned location. Merkel arrived in his car but immediately departed for his residence.
Berks detectives assigned to the covert operation intercepted Merkel as he exited his car in front of his home.
They searched his home and seized his cellphone.
The forensic examination of the device yielded evidence related to the electronic communication exchanges between Merkel and the purported 15-year-olds.
On Wednesday, detectives filed the charges against Merkel at District Judge Michael Hartman's Boyertown office and obtained an arrest warrant.
They went to his home about 6 p.m. Thursday and took him into custody.
Court records show Merkel is registered as a sex offender for a 1991 conviction in Delaware.