Investigative Group

EXCLUSIVE: Feds Wouldn’t Prosecute NASA Intern Caught Downloading Kiddie Porn

An intern was caught downloading child pornography at NASA, but officials let him continue working until he was arrested in an agency office a month later, according to documents obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation’s (TheDCNF) Investigative Group.

Federal attorneys decided not to prosecute Arthemuel Panes Hernaez, despite his possessing around 1,000 pornographic images of children. Hernaez was later prosecuted in a local court but was only sentenced to four months in county jail after the judge feared a longer stretch could cost Hernaez his NASA internship. (RELATED: The EPA PAID A Child Molester To Retire)

A federal investigator discovered “that a NASA intern was downloading child pornographic material onto his personal laptop” on Dec. 5, 2014, according to a NASA Inspector General (IG) report TheDCNF obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Hernaez allowed investigators to search his laptop. They “confirmed the presence of images and videos on the computer that appeared to depict naked underage children engaged in sexually explicit conduct,” the report said. Investigators informed Hernaez that “he did not have to say anything and he was free to leave.”

“I made a mistake. I will never do it again. I have child porn. Why am I not getting arrested?” Hernaez told investigators. He confessed to downloading and viewing the porn and said he knew doing so was illegal.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California declined to prosecute Hernaez, but the reason was redacted from the IG report. An Assistant U.S. Attorney encouraged investigators to seek prosecution through the Santa Clara County, Calif., District Attorney’s Office. (RELATED: Feds Charge Postal Worker With Watching Kiddie Porn On The Job)

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Hernaez was arrested at a NASA facility on Jan. 14, 2015 – one month after federal investigators caught him downloading child porn. He subsequently pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and was sentenced to four months in county jail and three years of probation and was ordered to pay $1,930 in fines and fees. Hernaez was also required to register as a sex offender.

The judge was concerned that a longer sentence could cost Hernaez his NASA job, Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Terry Harman told TheDCNF. Prosecutors objected to the judge’s sentence and asked for a minimum of six months jail time.

“Four months is not out of the question, but six months to a year is the standard,” Harman told TheDCNF. “Four months is a bit out of range, for sure.”

Harman also noted that Hernaez would have likely faced a longer sentence had he been caught one month later.

“This incident for him occurred in December 2014. In January 2015, the law changed to where we can add enhancement if there were more than 600 images,” Harman said. “That would have applied to this guy, because this guy had about 1,000 imagines.”

Hernaez is not listed in the NASA Ames Research Center directory where he worked in 2015, according to NASA spokeswoman Jessica Culler. She did not answer additional questions by publication of this report.

U.S Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California spokesman Abraham Simmons could not find any public files regarding Hernaez, who could not be reached for comment.

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