A former Salt Lake City school board member has pleaded guilty to downloading child pornography and producing such videos with a coerced minor.
Joél-Léhi Organista, 29, who resigned from the board last year after he was arrested, agreed to a plea deal earlier this month in the high-profile case that was part of a string of controversies that plagued the board overseeing Salt Lake City School District last year.
As part of the agreement with prosecutors, Organista pleaded guilty to two federal felony charges for production and distribution of child porn.
He has also pleaded guilty to two state-level charges: one first-degree felony for aggravated sexual abuse of a child, and one second-degree felony for enticing a minor by internet or text. Nine other counts, including object rape of a child, were dropped.
Organista was sentenced Tuesday in the state case, and will go before a federal judge in May. He faces concurrent state and federal sentences amounting to 15 years in prison. Organista could also be required to register as a sexual offender and abide to a lifetime of supervised release after his incarceration.
He is currently being held at Salt Lake County jail, but will be transferred to prison.
Organista was first elected to the school board in fall 2020 and previously volunteered at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center. The interactions with minors and downloads occurred between January 2021 — when Organista took his position on the school board — and last June, according to court documents.
He was arrested after officers received a tip that he had downloaded and saved files containing child pornography on a Dropbox account.
In searching his computer, according to a statement Tuesday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah, officers reported finding up to 150 images and videos of exploited minors.
Police also said that in searching Organista’s other devices, including his phone, they discovered a Snapchat account in which Organista had been communicating directly with children who identified themselves as between ages 12 and 17.
Organista allegedly asked for naked photos and “directs the children to do sexual acts.” Investigators say that Organista recorded some of one of those interactions, creating new pornography, with a boy under the age of 14.
District spokesperson Yándary Chatwin has previously said “as far as we’re aware right now,” none of the kids pictured in the images were Salt Lake City School District students.
Organista’s arrest came at the end of a flurry of disruptions and arguments that rocked the Salt Lake City school board: a superintendent was forced out, a principal was fired for driving home two drunken students, parents protested over the district starting the 2020-2021 school year entirely online amid the pandemic, and infighting among members over that decision led to vulgar outbursts.