A former Republican Senate staffer was arrested in Washington on Friday on federal child pornography charges in what investigators said was a crackdown on an online group that traded numerous illicit files and videos in recent months.

Ruben Verastigui is accused of receiving and possessing child pornography between last April and this month, according to a criminal complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The 27-year-old was arrested Friday evening at his apartment in Northeast Washington, where police executed a search warrant. Investigators said they found “several files of child pornography” on his cellphone, along with a chat conversation in which he allegedly discussed exchanging the files and videos. During an interview with investigators, Verastigui admitted to receiving some of the files, according to the complaint.

Verastigui worked as a digital strategist for the Senate Republican Conference as recently as last July.

Calls to numbers listed for Verastigui and family members weren’t immediately returned Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he had retained a lawyer.

Verastigui came onto authorities’ radar after last June, when agents from Homeland Security Investigations began investigating a group of at least 18 people who were trading child pornography online, according to a statement of facts in the case. Documents refer to the site as “Application A” to “protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.”

Investigators said they searched several members’ electronic devices and found chat histories in which members talked about exchanging child pornography. They said Verastigui used the pseudonym “Landon” and the handle “@somethingtaken.”

In one conversation in April, Verastigui allegedly told a user identified as “S-1” that pornography involving “babies” was his “absolute favorite.” The user later sent him a graphic video of child abuse, court records show, followed by nine more illicit clips the following day. During the same conversation, Verastigui asked that the user come to Washington “for the purpose of sexually abusing a minor,” records show.

Investigators said they identified Verastigui from a naked photo he took in his kitchen and sent to the chat. They said the details of the room and a tattoo visible on his left arm matched a picture from his Instagram account.

Following the search of his apartment Friday, investigators conducted a forensic preview of his phone, according to court documents. There, they said, they found “several files” of child pornography and chat logs.

After being read his Miranda rights, Verastigui “admitted that he used the username Landon and that he had been part of the group on Application A and had received child pornography during the time he was a part of that group,” investigators said. Chat histories revealed he had been involved in the group the previous week, according to court documents.

Verastigui was active in Republican politics, most recently working as a communications manager for the nonprofit Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, which supports Republicans who back clean-energy legislation. He was no longer employed at the organization as of Saturday, according to a statement provided by spokesman Ross Gillfillan.

“The details of the allegations against Mr. Verastigui are tragic and shocking,” the statement said. “We are prepared to fully cooperate with law enforcement requests in this matter to any extent needed.”

He also worked as a digital strategist for the Senate Republican Conference as recently as July, meaning some of his alleged offenses took place while he was a congressional staffer. A conference spokesperson told The Washington Post in an email: “We have just learned about this investigation and arrest. The individual has not worked at SRC since July 2, 2020.”

Before that, congressional records show that Verastigui worked as a digital director for the GOP staff of the U.S. Joint Economic Committee in 2018. A spokesperson for former committee chairman Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

A LinkedIn page for Ruben Verastigui says he also worked as a senior designer for the Republican National Committee in 2017 and 2018, designing social media ads for the Trump Make America Great Again Committee and Donald J. Trump for President. A committee spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Social media accounts matching Verastigui’s name and photos indicate he has lived and worked in Washington since 2017.

According to the LinkedIn page bearing the name Ruben Verastigui, the user was involved in several antiabortion rights organizations before his work in government, including March for Life, Students for Life America and Live Action.

Students for Life confirmed Verastigui worked there from Sept. 5, 2014, to Dec. 2, 2016, after he was a student involved with the group.

“He worked in an office doing graphic design and had no” oversight “or management of students,” Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman, wrote in a statement. “We have no knowledge of the allegations that we learned about today, the events of which took place after his tenure.”

At the 2013 March for Life rally, Verastigui was introduced as the president of his college’s Students for Life group, according to a C-SPAN video of the antiabortion rights event.

“We are the generation that has been led to believe that the killing of innocent pre-born children is okay,” he told the crowd. “How many of us are missing brothers, sisters, cousins, friends because of abortion?”

Verastigui appeared to frequently post photos around D.C. on Instagram, including recently from the White House. In some pictures, including one on the Speaker’s Balcony at the U.S. Capitol, Verastigui appears to have a tattoo of text on his left forearm that matches a description in court documents.

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