A man who recently worked for the Senate Republican Conference pleaded guilty on Friday to receiving child pornography.
Ruben Verastigui, 27, entered a guilty plea during a virtual hearing on Friday before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta.
Verastigui was part of a ring that was trading child porn on a website that has not been named publicly. Homeland Security Investigations agents recovered chat messages from the group after obtaining, through search warrants, electronic devices used by some of the members.
The seized devices shows Verastigui shared child porn videos with another member of the group and “made numerous comments about sexually abusing children,” according to a court document crafted by prosecutors and signed by the defendant.
After agents executed a warrant on his Washington home on Feb. 5, Verastigui admitted to being a member dubbed “Landon” who used the username “@somethingtaken.” He also acknowledged using the Internet to view, receive, and distribute child porn, according to an affidavit filed earlier this year.
A forensic examination of Verastigui’s phone showed 162 videos and over 50 images of child porn. He received many of the files between April 13, 2020, and Feb. 5.
The plea agreement saw another charge, possession of child porn, dropped.
Verastigui, who was arrested on Feb. 5 and remains in custody after being ordered held without bond, faces at least 5 years and up to 20 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $250,000 and a term of supervised release of at least 5 years. He will also be required to register as a sex offender.
Verastigui will be sentenced on October 12. A final pre-sentencing report shall be due on or before September 28.
Verastigui worked for the Senate Republican Conference for over a year starting in March 2019, according to his LinkedIn. In recent years, he also spent time working for the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee and the Republican National Committee.
The probe into the child porn ring has ensnared at least one other political staffer.
Adam Hageman, who worked for the Commerce Department during the Trump administration, was arrested late last year on receiving and possessing child porn charges.
Details in the criminal complaint against Hageman match those in the documents in the Verastigui case, including the ring having 18 members and the website in question being referred to as Application A.
Hageman, who was ordered held without bond, was set to have a plea agreement hearing on April 9, but court records do not indicate if that hearing took place.