Ruben A. Verastigui, a 27-year-old former Republican staffer, has pleaded guilty to one count of receiving child pornography after being arrested in February as part of an ongoing federal investigation.
Verastigui entered the plea Friday during a virtual hearing conducted before a federal court judge in Washington, D.C., where he was living when he admittedly exchanged child porn online with others.
Prosecutors said the government found Verastigui while investigating a group of people trading child porn on a particular website, not identified in court filings, and determined that he was involved.
Department of Homeland Security investigators had started looking into the group in June 2020 and eventually accessed chat messages exchanged among its more than a dozen members, including Verastigui.
“In the chat, Verastigui shared child pornography videos with another member of the group and made numerous comments about sexually abusing children,” prosecutors said in a recent federal court filing.
Homeland Security agents executed a search warrant at Verastigui’s apartment on Feb. 5, at which point he admitted being “Landon,” one of the members of the group, prosecutors said in court filings.
In a statement of facts entered with the plea agreement, Verastigui agreed he told investigators that he was “Landon” and that he used the internet to view, receive and share child porn among the group.
“A forensic examination of Verastigui’s phone revealed 162 videos and over 50 images of child pornography,” prosecutors said in the statement of facts that the defendant agreed to being accurate.
Verastigui worked for the Republican National Committee from 2017 to 2018 and for the Senate Republican Conference from 2019 to 2020, Politico noted in an article where the plea was first reported.
U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, accepted the plea but deferred on deciding whether to impose a sentence of roughly 12-to-15 years of incarceration as proposed by both parties.
Verastigui faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years imprisonment and risks a maximum punishment of 20 years behind bars. His sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for Oct. 12.