This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Beaumont Police Department.
Juan Antonio Villarreal, 53, was investigated after the child pornography he downloaded from the Internet was traced by a Beaumont police officer to a computer used by Villarreal.
HSI agents executed a federal search warrant at Villarreal's Houston residence Aug. 31. They discovered several images and videos of child pornography on a thumb drive connected to a computer. One of the videos included a known minor child victim being sexually exploited by an adult male.
Child pornography was also found on the desktop computer and five additional thumb drives found in the residence. A forensic exam on the devices identified 1,425 still images and 277 videos of child pornography.
Villarreal confirmed he was a third grade teacher at a Houston Independent School District elementary school. He also admitted he had received, viewed and downloaded child pornography for about five years.
U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore accepted Villarreal's guilty plea, and set sentencing for May 13. Villarreal faces at least five and up to 20 years imprisonment for the distribution conviction, and a maximum of 10 years imprisonment for the possession conviction. Each of the convictions also carries up to a $250,000 fine. After he completes any prison term imposed, Villarreal also faces a maximum of life on supervised release, during which the court can impose a number of special conditions designed to protect children by prohibiting the use of the Internet.
"This case is particularly troubling because the defendant violated the position of public trust he had as a teacher of young children," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "Some predators mistakenly believe they are anonymous while in cyberspace which shields them from scrutiny. In fact, the Internet gives law enforcement an especially effective tool to protect children and prosecute their victimizers."
Villarreal has been in custody since his arrest Aug. 31, where he will remain pending sentencing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Stabe, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.
This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 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, 1-800-843-5678.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.