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Press Release

Former Las Cruces middle school principal sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for child pornography

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Joel Aguilar Villanueva, 45, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, was sentenced today in federal court to 11 years and three months in prison for transportation of a visual image of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.  Villanueva pleaded guilty on Nov. 8, 2019.

According to the plea agreement and other court records, on Oct. 23, 2018, Villanueva, who was the principal of a middle school in Las Cruces, uploaded a video from an electronic device to Twitter. The video depicted a child engaged in a sexual act with an adult, and was posted with the comment “aprenden rapido,” which translates to English as, “they learn fast.” 

Upon his release from prison, Villanueva will be subject to five years of supervised release and must register as a sex offender.

The Las Cruces office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigated the case with assistance from the New Mexico State Police, the Las Cruces Police Department and the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa A. Ong prosecuted the case 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

Updated October 27, 2021

Project Safe Childhood
Press Release Number: 21-212