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May 13, 2016Pasco, WAUnited StatesChild Exploitation

Eastern Washington grade school teacher charged with child exploitation

PASCO, Wash. – An elementary school teacher in eastern Washington was arrested Thursday on allegations involving child molestation by investigators on the Southeast Regional Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, including special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Stephen J. Castilleja, 27, of Prosser, was taken into custody following the execution of a federal search warrant at his residence. During that search, investigators discovered nude photographs depicting what appeared to be a minor child known to Castilleja. Castilleja was booked into the Benton County Jail and remains in custody at this time. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington has accepted the case for federal prosecution.

Castilleja is employed as a first grade teacher in the Granger School District. The investigation is ongoing, but at this time there is no known connection between students in the Granger School District and the case.

“We’re still in the very preliminary stages of this investigation, but obviously a top priority in all cases involving alleged child exploitation is identifying any possible minor victims,” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge for HSI Seattle. “We encourage parents or members of the public who have information that may be relevant to this case to contact local law enforcement or reach out to us using ICE’s tip line.”

In addition to HSI, other agencies involved in the investigation include the Benton County Sheriff’s Department, and the Richland and Kennewick police departments. 

This case is a product of HSI’s Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 12,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2014, more than 2,000 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative.

HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.

For additional information about wanted suspected child predators, download HSI's Operation Predator smartphone app or visit the online suspect alerts page.

Updated: 05/16/2016