ALBUQUERQUE – Joel Aguilar Villanueva, 42, of Las Cruces, N.M., made his initial appearances in federal court in Las Cruces this morning on a criminal complaint charging him with transporting child pornography in interstate or foreign commerce and possession of child pornography. According to the criminal complaint, Villanueva is the principal of a middle school in Las Cruces public school system. Villanueva remains in custody pending a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing, both of which are scheduled for April 9, 2019.
The investigation resulting in the charges against Villanueva began in Oct. 2018, when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received a tip that a certain Twitter account was being used to share videos of suspected child pornography. The investigation revealed that the Twitter account allegedly was subscribed to Villanueva, who listed a Las Cruces-area apartment as his residence. On April 3, 2019, law enforcement officers executed a state search warrant at the apartment, and seized an external hard drive that contained suspected child pornography. Villanueva was arrested while the officers were executing the search warrant.
If convicted of the charges in the criminal complaint, Villanueva faces a statutory mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 20 years of imprisonment on the transportation of child pornography charge, and a maximum 20 years of imprisonment on the possession of child pornography charge.
Charges in criminal complaints are only accusations, and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case was investigated by the Las Cruces office of Homeland Security Investigations, the New Mexico State Police, the Las Cruces Police Department, and the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa A. Ong is prosecuting the case as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices and DOJ’s Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit http://www.justice.gov/psc/.