A school board member in Utah was arrested Wednesday on child pornography charges after allegedly using Snapchat to “direct children to do sexual acts” and send nude photos.
Joél-Léhi Organista, 29, was taken into custody late Wednesday night on suspicion of eight felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Organista was a newly elected Salt Lake City School Board member and had previously taught health at Horizonte High School.
BREAKING NEWS – Salt Lake City School District board member Joél-Léhi Organista has been arrested for multiple instances of child pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor.
He just voted to give himself a raise earlier this week. pic.twitter.com/GczdIUaEGk
— Adam Herbets (@AdamHerbets) June 3, 2021
Police said they received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that led them to Organista, according to Fox 13. The tip claimed that Organista had downloaded and saved files containing child pornography on a Dropbox account, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Investigators searched Organista’s computer and discovered at least five images of exploited minors, a probable cause affidavit said, according to Fox 13. One of the pictures allegedly showed an adult man sexually assaulting a young girl.
Organista “admitted to having downloaded, viewed and kept the images and videos containing child pornography” during an interview with police after his arrest, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Police allegedly found more evidence of sexual exploitation of a minor on Organista’s phone. While searching the device, they found a Snapchat account where he was allegedly communicating with children who said they were between the ages of 12 and 17, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. During the conversations, Organista allegedly asked for nude photos and told the children to do sexual acts.
The conversations and child pornography downloads happened between January and the beginning of June, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Organista — who was celebrated as the youngest person to have been elected to the school board — began the role the same month that the alleged offenses began.
“Joel Lehi Organista has access to young children in his current position of trust involving grades K-12,” an officer wrote in the affidavit, according to Fox 13.
“Joel has shown that, through electronic means, that he frequently meets children online, solicits nude photographs from them, and has private online video conversations with them,” the officer alleged.
According to his campaign website, Organista was born in Mexico City before immigrating to Salt Lake City when he was in elementary school. According to the affidavit, Organista is believed to have family living in Mexico that could encourage him to flee, Fox 13 reported. He is being held without bail.
Organista has held a number of prestigious leadership roles, according to his campaign website. He served on the Advisory Committee on Equity for the Utah State Board of Education, presented at the United Nations IV World Congress on Child & Adolescent Rights, and received an award from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.
He also served as a youth leader for the Utah chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens since 2018, but was reportedly suspended from that role, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
In December 2020, Organista appeared in a TEDx Talks video to discuss “decolonizing” leadership development.
According to his website, he was an instructor at the University of Utah, where he taught a course on “decolonized leadership” in the Ethnic Studies department.
The president of the Salt Lake City School Board did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
In late May, a former teacher at a New Mexico school pleaded guilty to sharing child pornography online, where “potentially millions of people downloaded the images.” (RELATED: REPORT: Former Teacher Pleads Guilty To Possession Of Child Pornography After Police Find Dozens Of Photos Of 5-Year-Old)
In California, a sixth-grade teacher was arrested at the school he worked at on suspicion of possessing child pornography.