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Las Cruces Youth Minister Facing Child Porn Charges

Oct 10, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE – Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney and Acting Special Agent in Charge Jack P. Staton of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in El Paso, announced the filing of federal child sexual exploitation and pornography charges against Stephen Mendoza Arellano, an ordained minister for the Apostolic Assembly Church who serves as the Church’s District of New Mexico Youth President. 

Arellano, 30, of Las Cruces, N.M., made his initial appearance this morning in federal court on a criminal complaint charging him with attempted production of child pornography, enticement of a child to engage in sexual activity, and travel to meet a minor to engage in sexual conduct.  He remains in federal custody pending a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing, which have not yet been scheduled.

   HSI Special Agents arrested Arellano on Oct. 6, 2017, on the criminal complaint, which alleges that Arellano committed the crimes charged between May 2017 and Aug. 2017 in Dona Ana County, N.M., and elsewhere.  According to the criminal complaint, Arellano traveled from Las Cruces to El Paso, Tex., with the intention of having illicit sexual contact with the child victim who was 15-years-old when he began contacting her.

According to the complaint, Arellano is a National Ordained Minister for the Apostolic Assembly Church, holds the title of District of New Mexico Youth President, and is a member of the same church as the victim.  HSI initiated the investigation into Arellano after receiving a report from the parents of Arellano’s victim.  The criminal complaint alleges that Arellano began communicating with the victim in a sexually explicit manner in May 2017, when the victim was fifteen-years-old.  It further alleges that Arellano sent nude photos of himself to the victim and requested nude photos of the victim via cellular phone messaging between May 2017 and Aug. 2017.  The complaint also alleges that Arellano engaged in sexual activity with the victim in July and Aug. 2017.  The investigation allegedly revealed that Arellano was aware of the victim’s age because he assisted in making a video for the victim’s Sweet 16 birthday party. 

If convicted on the attempted production of child pornography charge, Arellano faces a mandatory minimum penalty of 15 years and a maximum of 30 years in federal prison.  If convicted on the enticement charge, Arellano faces a mandatory minimum penalty of ten years and a maximum of life in federal prison.  If convicted on the traveling to engage in illicit sexual conduct charge, Arellano faces a maximum of 30 years in federal prison.  The charges in the complaint are merely accusations and Arellano is presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

   This case was investigated by the Las Cruces office of HSI and the Las Cruces Police Department.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa A. Ong as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.  Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices and DOJ’s Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.  For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit http://www.justice.gov/psc/.

Information from Department of Justice