Ruben A. Verastigui, a former Republican staffer recently arrested on child pornography charges, is a danger to the community who must be detained until his trial ends, a federal prosecutor handling his case said Tuesday.
Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin, the top federal law enforcement officer in Washington, D.C., said releasing Mr. Verastigui before trial “would put the public and children everywhere at-risk.”
Mr. Verastigui, 27, was arrested Friday at his apartment in Washington, D.C. in connection with a criminal complaint that accuses him of illegally knowingly receiving and possessing child pornography.
In a graphic and disturbing 9-page court filing, Mr. Sherwin briefly made the government’s case for keeping Mr. Verastigui locked up pending the eventual outcome of his criminal proceedings.
Mr. Verastigui admitted to authorities that he belonged to a private online group devoted to sharing explicit photos and videos showing children being raped, Mr. Sherwin explained in the filing.
Investigators determined Mr. Verastigui belonged to the group using the display name “Landon” and the username @somethingtaken, and Mr. Sherwin said he later confirmed as much upon questioning.
Arguing in support of pre-trial detention, Mr. Sherwin said that investigators also have chat logs showing “Landon” conversing with another group member about plotting to rape and kill children.
“Every red flag has been raised when it comes to his behavior,” Mr. Sherwin wrote. “It would be troublesome enough if Verastigui simply had accessed and viewed sexually explicit depictions of young children being brutally raped. But, here Verastigui‘s conduct goes far beyond that.”
Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, broke the news of Mr. Verastigui‘s arrest along with details about the defendants’ links to the GOP.
Mr. Holt reported that an Instagram account in the name of the defendant had previously shared an image from what the user said was their home. Mr. Holt was able to use landmarks in that image to determine roughly where the account holder lived. That placed the Instagram user at an apartment building in D.C. where Mr. Verastigui was arrested during a multi-agency operation Friday.
Mr. Verastigui‘s account on Instagram includes recent photos of himself at the White House in December 2020, as well as numerous shots of him in and around the U.S. Capitol in previous years.
Elsewhere online, video footage exists from 2013 showing Mr. Verastigui speaking at an anti-abortion rally, where he is credited as being the president of the North Vista College’s Students for Life chapter.
A profile on LinkedIn in the name of Mr. Verastigui also links him to Northwest Vista. That same profile says he worked as a senior designer for the Republican National Committee from May 2017 through July 2018, and as a senior digital strategist for the Senate Republican Conference from March 2019 through July 2020. He was working for a non-profit group when he was arrested.
Court filings did not list a lawyer for Mr. Verastigui who could be reached for comment. No reply to the motion in support of pretrial detention had been docketed as of late Tuesday.
The arrest of Mr. Verastigui has its roots in a probe launched last June by the Homeland Security Investigations, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, when its special agents began looking into the online group where “Landon” was a member. HSI special agents subsequently executed search warrants on the electronic devices of some members and uncovered the chat logs cited in the latest court filings, according to charging documents.
The chat logs with “Landon” took place in April 2020, and Mr. Verastigui was active in the group the week before the search warrant was executed, Mr. Sherwin wrote in the latest court filing.