Verastigui was a digital strategist for the RNC in 2017 and 2018, working on social media advertising for political committees supporting former President Donald Trump, according to Verastigui’s LinkedIn page. The digital strategist has also worked for the Senate Republican Conference and for a nonprofit group called Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions. An anti-abortion activist from San Antonio, Verastigui spoke at the March for Life in Washington in 2013, according to a video clip posted online.
Mehta’s sentence for Verastigui was seven months longer than the minimum of the 144-188 month range allowed under a plea deal he reached with prosecutors last year. When Mehta accepted the guilty plea last July, he indicated he did not commit to that range and may reject the deal, sending the case for trial. But at Thursday’s hearing, the judge accepted a sentence within those parameters.
Mehta, an appointee of President Barack Obama, handed down the sentence amid renewed attention from Republican lawmakers to sentencing in child pornography cases. Claims that incoming Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was too lax on his sentences for such offenders dominated his questioning by GOP senators during his confirmation hearings last month. Jackson was confirmed in the high court on Thursday in a 53-47 vote and will take her place there once Judge Stephen Breyer retires this summer.
At the time of Verastigui’s guilty plea, he admitted to being in possession of 152 videos and 50 images of child pornography and receiving and distributing sexual depictions of children. He has been in custody since his arrest last February and is currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
According to an affidavit submitted in connection with Verastigui’s arrest, he searched for child rape footage during an online chat in 2020. Prosecutors said Verastigui also fantasized online about killing children while abusing them.
The former GOP aide was ensnared in an investigation into a network of at least 18 people trading child pornography through a chat group on an unnamed website and appears to have zeroed in on at least one another political staffer in Washington, according to court documents.
In November 2020, a Trump appointee in the Commerce Department, Adam Hageman, was arrested for sharing a child pornography video and commenting on child sexual abuse. Hageman appears to have been close to pleading guilty last April, but public court records do not indicate whether that hearing ever took place.
The investigation was carried out by detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Youth and Family Services Division, Internet Crimes Against Children Unit, Crimes Against Children Task Force Virginia Internet and Homeland Security investigations, according to a statement released by DC police last year.
Prosecution and defense submissions on sentencing in the Verastigui case are absent from the court’s public docket and appear to be under seal. Such secrecy is unusual for the federal court in Washington where he was sentenced.