New Mexico

Attorney: Principal accused of child porn exhibited 'grooming behavior'

Joel Villanueva denied bond, to remain in custody

Former LCPS principal goes before a judge

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - Calling the former Zia Middle School principal charged with transportation and possession of child pornography "a danger to the community," a magistrate judge ordered on Tuesday morning that he remain in custody.

“It would take him seconds to get on the internet, even in a halfway house," said Marisa Ong, the Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to the case.

Joel Villanueva was arrested last Wednesday in connection with transportation and possession of child pornography. At the time, he was the acting principal of Zia Middle School, with approximately 745 students attending 6th, 7th and 8th grades.

In court  Tuesday, Ong told the judge Villanueva exhibited “grooming behavior," especially with special needs students at Zia Middle School. The attorney said Villanueva would buy students food and invite them for "snack time."

Additionally, Ong said federal investigators have discovered the former principal used the TOR browser, which allows a user to anonymously browse the internet while hiding their IP address, often associated with "the dark web."

Defense attorney Jeff Lahann asked Judge Fouratt if Villanueva could be allowed to stay at his property in the Dallas, Ft. Worth area.

"He has no reason to flee," Lahann said in court.

Juge Fouratt told Villanueva he had "concerns about danger to a particularly vulnerable segment of the community.”

Furthermore, Judge Fouratt said Villanueva might be a naturalized U.S. citizen, but his native country is Mexico. Originally, the judge said he wanted Villanueva to be under closer supervision in a halfway house.

However, after hearing additional arguments from the prosecution, the judge decided to keep Villanueva in custody.

The former principal is accused of uploading child pornography to Twitter. Judge Fouratt said the defendant allegedly made "an intentional decision to feed an addiction.”

Federal investigators say Villanueva is associated with the Twitter account "azteca88047," which includes the zip code (880047) on his driver's license.

According to the criminal complaint, the Twitter user "azteca88047" uploaded a child pornography video, approximately 15 seconds in length, featuring a child believed to be between six and 12 and years old. The caption in the tweet allegedly read: "They learn quickly."

In federal court on Tuesday, Judge Fouratt said that allegation demonstrated "a sinister callousness to what is happening to the boy in the video."

A Las Cruces Public Schools spokesman attending the hearing told ABC-7 that additional counseling staff will be made available to any students "struggling with the situation." He had no comment on the new allegations.

When asked if Superintendent Dr. Greg Ewing would be made available for comment, the spokesman said on Tuesday morning that "it has not been determined."


comments powered by Disqus

Recommended Stories

Most Popular Stories