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ICE HSI special agents arrest NM teacher on child pornography charges

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A citizen of the Philippines, who taught at a school in Española, New Mexico, appeared in federal court Wednesday charged with possessing child pornography.

This case is being investigated by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The criminal complaint accuses Rodymar Pedrano Lelis, 29, of accessing videos containing child pornography from his room in a local hotel Sept. 7, 2019. HSI special agents arrested Lelis in Española.

“Child exploitation is a heinous crime, and these investigations are one of HSI’s highest priorities,” said Jack P. Staton, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. “We plan to continue working with our federal, state and local partners to identify, arrest and prosecute child predators to hold them accountable for their reprehensible crimes.”

Lelis is lawfully present in the United States on a J-1 non-immigrant visa for foreign nationals involved in cultural and educational exchange opportunities. He was employed at La Tierra Montessori School of the Arts and Sciences on the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico.

A detention hearing is set for Nov. 8 in federal court. If convicted of the charged offense, Lelis faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.

HSI special agents, assigned to the Albuquerque office, conducted an investigation with assistance from HSI Manila and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Mease is prosecuting this case.

A criminal complaint is only an accusation.  A defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This investigation was conducted under 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 19,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child exploitation material, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2018, more than 3,000 (3,191) child predators were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 850 (859) victims identified or rescued.

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. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.

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. HSI is a founding member 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.

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