Former Youth Minister from Las Cruces Pleads Guilty to Federal Child Sexual Exploitation Charge
Defendant Prosecuted Under Project Safe Childhood
ALBUQUERQUE – U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson and Acting Special Agent in Charge Jack P. Staton of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in El Paso announced today that Stephen Mendoza Arellano, 30, of Las Cruces, N.M., pleaded guilty in federal court to traveling in interstate commerce for the purpose of engaging in sexual contact with a minor. The plea agreement recommends that Arellano be sentenced to a prison term of 57 to 71 months followed by 15 years of supervised release.
HSI Special Agents arrested Arellano on Oct. 7, 2017, 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 between May 2017 and Aug. 2017 in Dona Ana County, N.M., and elsewhere. At the time of his arrest, Arellano was an ordained minister of the Apostolic Assembly Church and was serving as the Church’s District of New Mexico Youth President. 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.
The complaint noted that Arellano was a National Ordained Minister for the Apostolic Assembly Church, at the time, held the title of District of New Mexico Youth President, and was 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. According to the criminal complaint, Arellano began communicating with the victim in a sexually explicit manner in May 2017, when the victim was fifteen-years-old; 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; and engaged in sexual activity with the victim in July and Aug. 2017. The investigation 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.
During today’s proceedings, Arellano pled guilty to a felony information charging him with interstate travel with intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor. In entering the guilty plea, Arellano admitted that in the early summer of 2017, he began to pursue a romantic relationship with the 15-year-old minor victim, whom he knew through the Apostolic Assembly Church and their families’ relationship. Arellano admitted that in June 2017, he traveled from Las Cruces to El Paso, Texas, with the intent to engage in illicit sexual contact with the victim. Arellano also admitted to attempting to engage in that contact.
Arellano has been in custody since his arrest and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
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/.