Ralph “Rusty” Marino, the former police chief in Stow, has been ordered to have no contact with children younger than 18 after being arraigned Friday on a child enticement charge.
Marino, who appeared in a virtual arraignment over Zoom because of the coronavirus pandemic, is charged with enticing a child younger than 16 after allegedly planning to meet with a person who he thought was a 14-year-old boy on April 17.
A not-guilty plea was entered on behalf of Marino, 63, during the virtual arraignment. In addition to staying away from children, Marino was also ordered by a Leominster District Court judge to stay away from and have no contact with the witness that he met with in April, the person Marino thought was a 14-year-old boy but was actually a member of Predator Poachers Massachusetts.
Marino’s attorney, Greg Johnson, moved to waive the reading of a criminal complaint against Marino during the arraignment, which prosecutor Courtney Sans did not object to. The arraignment lasted just a few minutes, and Marino is scheduled to return to court on Sept. 2.
Marino started talking on a dating app on April 11 with who he thought was the 14-year-old boy. The two planned to meet and engage in sexual acts on April 17, according to a criminal complaint filed in Leominster District Court.
“The conversation was sexually explicit and includes language from the older man indicating that he wished to engage in sexual acts with the 14-year-old boy,” the complaint reads.
On the app, Marino allegedly used the handle “Daddydearest,” according to a search warrant affidavit.
Predator Poachers Massachusetts is a group not affiliated with law enforcement that claims to catch sexual predators on online dating sites. Marino met with a member of the group in Leominster and the group posted a video of the interaction online.
Leominster police watched the video on April 17 and saw the license plate of the car Marino drove to the meetup. Police checked the license plate and learned the SUV was registered to the Stow Police Department. Police recognized the man in the video as Marino and requested help from Massachusetts State Police, officials said.
On April 18, state police detectives spoke to Jason Velasquez, a member of Predator Poachers Massachusetts who confronted Marino.
Velasquez told investigators he had been posing as a 14-year-old boy on a dating app and was chatting with Marino, the search warrant affidavit said. The chat log was recorded and handed over to state police.
Also on April 18, state police investigators asked Marino to go to the Stow Police Department for an interview, according to the criminal complaint.
Marino, who lives in Lancaster, was being watched by troopers. Marino left his home and before going to the police station, he pulled onto a side street and walked into the woods, investigators wrote in the search warrant affidavit.
Troopers waited for Marino to leave then checked the woods and found a plastic bag containing a sex toy and lubrication, authorities said.
“During the interview, Chief Marino made statements indicating that he did engage in conversation using a social media application and was aware that the person he was engaging with was identifying as being a 14-year-old boy,” the complaint reads. “Chief Marino admitted to leaving the Stow Police Department Friday afternoon in his department issued Ford Explorer and traveling to Leominster for the purposes of meeting with a boy he believed to be 14 years old.”
Marino let investigators examine two cell phones he had. He admitted to deleting all text messages, call logs and social media apps used on the phones before meeting with investigators, the complaint reads.
Marino was relieved of duty on April 18 and has had no official role or duties for the town since then, officials said.
Last year, Marino was appointed chief in September after then-Chief William Bosworth retired.
Marino joined the Stow Police Department in 1988 and in 2014 was promoted to lieutenant. Before working in Stow, Marino was a police officer in Richmond, Virginia, Marino told the Board of Selectmen when he was appointed chief.